The indiscriminate sacredness of bombs

August 31, 2017 § 228 Comments

We are always responsible for the behaviors we choose.

Bombs are indiscriminate weapons: they kill everyone in their fatal blast radius without discriminating between innocent people and belligerents. This is the nature of bombs.

When we choose to detonate a bomb we are choosing to kill everyone we know to be in the fatal blast radius. That is the nature of the objective behavior we have chosen.

But many people seem to believe that the indiscriminate nature of bombs qua technology has a sacred charism which takes away our responsibility for our choices. The fact that a bomb is objectively indiscriminate somehow implies that we aren’t responsible for killing all of the people we choose to kill when we deliberately destroy their living bodies with a bomb. We are only responsible for killing the people we wanted to kill with an imaginary discriminate weapon, not all of the actual people we actually chose to kill with our actually indiscriminate weapon.

But the fact that bombs are indiscriminate weapons doesn’t change the nature of human choices and moral responsibility. Bombs are not quasi-sacramental objects which move our moral responsibility out of objective reality and into an imaginary inner world wherein we didn’t actually choose to kill everyone known to be in the fatal blast radius.

The modernist notion is that bombs as a technology change the moral nature of killing, moving it into a subjective imaginary realm in which we are responsible for the choices we would have made in an idealized imaginary world: we are not responsible for the actual choices we actually made in the real world.  You might notice a certain similarity to the idea that financial and medical technology have changed the moral nature of usury and contraception.


See recent Crisis Magazine articles here, here, and here.  You can see my own comments on these articles on my Disqus profile.

§ 228 Responses to The indiscriminate sacredness of bombs

  • T. Morris says:

    I wonder how many of the same people would claim that Tim McVeigh was not morally responsible for the collateral damage resulting from his bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in OKC?

    If you’re standing in a crowd of innocent people and I snipe you from 500 yds distance and with pinpoint accuracy, knowing good and well that the exiting projectile might also kill the innocent unintended victim standing behind or near you, I am in point of fact morally culpable for his death.

  • Zippy says:

    I think part of what motivates modernity’s selective crass utilitarianism is that the more powerful technologies become, the more short term advantage is gained by doing evil.

  • Bruce says:

    This is what I do for a living so I know a little about it.
    Bombs don’t kill everyone in a blast radius. Bombs wound and kill through multiple damage mechanisms, usually a combination of blast and case fragmentation depending on the type of bomb. “Blast” in turn wounds and kills in multiple ways. Overpressure damage (ear drums, lung damage etc.) things thrown at you, your body being thrown against something, collapsing structures falling on you etc.
    Both blast and fragmentation wound/lethality modeling is usually understood and expressed probabilistically. Within a certain radius, the probability is almost certainly 1.0 (maybe .999999999) given a big enough bomb. Blast probability, when it does drop below 1.0, drops off fairly rapidly (it’s a volumetric effect subject to cube root scaling) but doesn’t go instantly from 1 to 0 (when I’m asked “what’s the lethal radius of this or that bomb?” I answer with a question – “what probability?”). Fragmentation probability drops more slowly and extends out farther (at, say, 50 yards I might or might not get hit by a fragment which might or might not be lethal).
    Not that any of this changes anything in your argument – It’s a moral choice we make– I just wanted to look smart.
    Guns, also sometimes indiscrimately kill – soldiers sometimes hit unintended targets.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    Every description is an editorial choice. The main point is that the choice to detonate a bomb is a choice to do what bombs do: it isn’t a choice to do what the acting subject wishes a bomb did but doesn’t actually do (in particular, discriminate between innocents and belligerents within its sphere of action).

  • Is this a function of technology or liberalism?

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Is this a function of technology or liberalism?

    Both. Liberalism makes people believe that they are entitled to make evil choices, while technology increases the short term power differential between those willing to make evil choices and those unwilling to make them.

  • Bruce says:

    ZIppy.

    Yeah, I just wanted to pontificate and look smart. Yes, your point stands.

  • So an illiberal regime would not use bombs?

  • TomD says:

    There’s a pointless discussion that often happens that can be used (and is used) to obfuscate the issue – by comparing two gravely evil acts and saying one is somehow “less” evil – a smart bomb vs a dumb bomb; a big nuke vs a small nuke; 5% usury vs 50% usury.

    But gradations in “cut off from God” aren’t really useful.

  • Bruce says:

    Details seem to matter.

    The question seems to be “does the pilot know that the bomb will (or is very likely to) kill innocents?” If I drop a laser guided bomb on an isolated truck containing a terrorist who’s about to mortar a bus full of (traditional) nuns and the seeker malfunctions, the bomb goes strictly ballistic and hits a muslim wedding party, well the pilot didn’t intend that and couldn’t reasonably know that would happen. If the pilot drops a 2000 pound bomb on an office building where he knows there are likely innocents and jihadists then it seems he is indifferent to killing innocents.

  • Bruce says:

    FWIW, I’m not a neocon fan of bombing Muslim (or any) countries.

  • Ian says:

    I wonder too if the more impersonal nature of dropping a bomb helps to occlude things. The person dropping the bomb from 1500 feet in the air seems so far removed from what is actually happening when the bomb hits its target. I once got into a debate with a friend over the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and asked him to consider a hypothetical situation where instead of dropping the A-bombs, we had sent soldiers into H & N and had them go into people’s houses and indiscriminately slaughter men, women, and children point blank. It was easier for him to see the moral wrongness of that.

    One could maybe make the same point with abortion: using a pill to kill the baby in your womb that you can’t even see and maybe doesn’t even look like a baby yet but more like a ‘clump of cells’ seems a lot more impersonal than say, killing a baby that’s already been born and very obviously a human being.

  • LarryDickson says:

    YES. See the Snowden movie, where it changed him when he discovered his drone killed a child. This is EXACTLY true, as I heard from someone who attended our techie “hacker” meetups in SD, and who was manning things from deep underground control center in Colorado.

    The implication, of course, is that we need to revert to slower, more personal, even more dangerous ways of doing things. The technological quick fix is actually far more dangerous, as North Korea is currently teaching us.

  • Well said, Zippy. We’re living in scary times because our killing is now sterile,virtual reality, we don’t have to get our own hands dirty. Clumps of cells,collateral damage, kill targets, all completely dehumanized and distant from us. We hardly even hunt anymore,so even the nature of death is cleanly wrapped in cellophane for us at the grocery store.

    Somebody smart once said we judge ourselves by our own intentions, but God judges us by our actions or inactions.

    The solution to sin is never more sin. When it comes to war however,or public defense,you exceed my pay grade. I don’t know where those moral lines fall.

  • Zippy says:

    Bruce:

    Details seem to matter.

    Agreed. Abstraction is an endless source of mischief.

  • Craig N. says:

    Would siege warfare be inherently immoral? There are some obvious differences between sieges and bombs, but from the attacker’s point of view besieging a city is at least as indiscriminate as lobbing explosives over the walls.

    It is hard to imagine that medieval and early modern theorists didn’t discuss sieges in a just war context: can anybody point to a convenient source?

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    So an illiberal regime would not use bombs?

    Incorrect.

    You are back to your whole cause-effect fallacy from a few threads ago. Multiple kinds of causes can produce similar or identical effects.

    The fact that cyanide causes death doesn’t imply that cyanide is the only kind of thing which causes death.

    The fact that liberalism produces a particular grave evil doesn’t imply that only liberalism can produce said particular grave evil.

  • djz242013 says:

    @zippy if you don’t already have a blog post up highlighting and explaining this point, I think you should consider making one.

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/crisismagazine/truman8217s_decision_was_a_great_moral_evil/#comment-3491207404

    Particularly this line:

    All three aspects must be good — the objective act, the subjective intention, and the circumstances — in order to have a morally good act.

    was very effective in clearing up my own thinking about what role consequentialist calculation plays in moral goodness of acts.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    A question and a point for clarity.

    Question: what’s the moral difference between accepting a behaviour vs willing a behaviour? In the current context, if I firebomb Dresden/nuke Nagasaki because I intend to kill a bunch of civilians, that’s different from if I drop a bomb on a North Korean Army position using people as human shields because I accept that many civilians will be killed, but what I actually want is to eliminate the position, and would frankly more happily do so without those extra people there.

    Is one formal cooperation with evil whereas the other is material cooperation with evil? To what extent does the principle of double effect come into play?

    The point: ‘civilian’ is a very modern distinction, found in neither Biblical nor medieval sources. We often interchange ‘civilian’ and ‘innocent’, but I don’t think we should, at least not always. Remember that there are contexts wherein it is not only acceptable but morally required to kill all the men, women, children, livestock, and pets of the enemy, leaving only his fruit trees standing (as a sign of God’s ultimate Divine Mercy). To my mind, this can only be because none of them are innocent; not even the babes in arms.

    None of this strictly impinges on the point made in the post, which is of course still accurate.

  • Mike T says:

    Who are you to tell a nuclear bomb it cannot identify as a precision munition? Bigot.

  • The relevant point is that if liberalism and illiberalism can both use bombs indiscriminately then maybe it is more reasonable to look to technology as the culprit rather than either political philosophy.

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    I agree that “civilian” is a modern category, and “innocent” is the correct category morally. Civilians who work in ball bearing plants which supply vehicle factories which build vehicles for the army are not “innocent” in my understanding, since they are choosing to materially support the war effort. “Human shields” who have chosen to put themselves in harm’s way to make destroying military targets less palatable or politically viable, likewise. Even children carrying out attacks at the behest of their elders are combatants in the pertinent sense – though due consideration for the circumstances is never excluded from the overall moral calculus.

    So I have a fairly broad conception of “combatant” or “belligerent”, as a category.

    However, very small children and infants are paradigmatically innocent. Under no circumstances is it licit to kill them on purpose — even a circumstance in which they are being used as human shields.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Whatever it takes to deny the demonstrable, demonstrated, historical, and ongoing horrors perpetrated by liberalism.

  • Zippy says:

    Ian:

    I wonder too if the more impersonal nature of dropping a bomb helps to occlude things.

    Absolutely. Bombing as behavior enables remote, hidden killing. This makes it easier to abstract away, to pretend that the people being killed aren’t real. If the bomber-of-innocents and every person who supports bombing innocents had to fully witness in a tactile, sensory, up close and personal way each killing of each innocent in the particular act, one hopes that almost all sane human beings would find it appropriately repellant and change their tune.

    It is possible that Hell and Purgatory may bring a vivid experience of what they actually did/supported to those who perpetrate/support bombing innocents. Justice seems to demand as much.

  • Zippy:

    Whatever it takes to deny reason.

  • Wood says:

    winstonscrooge,

    The relevant point is that if liberalism and illiberalism can both use bombs indiscriminately then maybe it is more reasonable to look to technology as the culprit rather than either political philosophy.

    The relevant point was that people were mostly using consequentialist arguments to support mass murder. I don’t think liberalism was a point of contention until you brought it up. That’s not inconsequential (heh) because it was obvious on that other site that people will use nearly any justification for some reason supporting the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. winstonscrooge, is it not even the slightest bit instructive that you wish to even force this particular heinous moral wct into some back door support for liberalism or to argue against those who oppose liberalism?

  • Zippy is the one who ascribed indiscriminate bombing to liberalism.

  • donnie says:

    Whatever it takes to deny reason.

    Ouch, sick burn bro. Although, it generally helps to have demonstrated even the faintest grasp of reason yourself before you go around accusing folks of denying it. Something something take the plank out of your own eye…

    Your argument is flawed to an embarrassing degree and it really ought to be obvious. For example, consider the following:

    “Mass murder occurs in illiberal societies as well as in liberal societies. Therefore, liberalism is not responsible for the mass murder that occurs in liberal societies.”

    If this is true then so is the following:

    “Mass murder occurs in non-Nazi societies as well as in Nazi societies. Therefore, Nazism is not responsible for the mass murder that occurs in Nazi societies.”

    Hopefully the error is clear.

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    I missed this part of your comment:

    Remember that there are contexts wherein it is not only acceptable but morally required to kill all the men, women, children, livestock, and pets of the enemy, leaving only his fruit trees standing (as a sign of God’s ultimate Divine Mercy). To my mind, this can only be because none of them are innocent; not even the babes in arms.

    I disagree. It is never acceptable to deliberately kill the innocent under any circumstances, period, done, end of story, no exceptions.

    We had some lengthy discussions a while back on the Ban (the killing of everyone among the conquered in several Old testament accounts). This probably isn’t the place to rehash all that (see “Biblical Literalism” in my sidebar as an entry point). But suffice to say for the current discussion that the premise is disputed.

  • Zippy says:

    A word search of “liberal” shows that winstonscrooge was the first person to use it in the comments, and it was not used in the OP.

    It is true though that liberal societies tend to be consequentialist and that the particular deliberate mass killing-of-innocents under discussion was done by a liberal polity.

  • Isn’t anti-liberalism one of the broader themes consistently addressed in your blog? Was I wrong to assume that you were ascribing indiscriminate bombing to liberalism? If so, I apologize.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Anti-consequentialism is a long-standing orthogonal theme; as is anti-usury, anti-torture, anti-unjust-war, pro-financial-realism, and several others. Not every post is about liberalism specifically. It was you who introduced it here.

    It is true, though orthogonal, that pretty much all mass murder by bomb that has ever been committed so far has been done by liberal polities and their close cousins/spinoffs. Islam (e.g. 9-11, counting airplanes used as bombs) and private actors (e.g. Timothy McVeigh, a zealous liberal himself) come in very, very distant second place.

    It is also true that liberal polities breed moral consequentialists en masse.

    But those are all beside the point of the OP.

  • Nazism was responsible for mass murder because it directly espoused a policy of racial purity and murder as a means of achieving this goal.

    I don’t see how a government non exclusively prioritizing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens leads to indiscriminate bombing. I can see how the available technology would lead any dominant civilization who had it in their possession to use it regardless of their political philosophy however.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    Whatever it is that is baffling you is off topic.

  • Again I apologize for assuming that you were implying that liberalism is responsible for indiscriminate bombing even though you confirmed as much in your subsequent comment.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    It is a fact that a liberal polity actually did it. That fact seems to be prodding you into continuing your off topic digression.

    Everyone familiar with your views already knows that in your view no atrocity committed by a liberal regime is attributable to liberalism, and no regime that professes liberal principles is authentically liberal to the extent it commits atrocities.

  • No regime that professes liberal principle is liberal to the extent it does not fit the definition of liberalism (as you described) nor respect the rule of law.

  • Wood says:

    winstonscrooge,

    Nazism was responsible for mass murder because it directly espoused a policy of racial purity and murder as a means of achieving this goal.

    And liberalism has been responsible for mass murder becasue it espouses a policy of liberal purity. This is why liberals tend towards consequentialism. When liberty is the political goal (as opposed to the Good), then the impure (ie babies and grandpas in the ICU) are murdered as a means to the ends of liberty.

  • Zippy says:

    Nazism is just an inbred form of liberalism. We’ve been over all this before.

    And now we return to the actual subject.

  • Consequentialism-“if you think that the whole point of morality is to spread happiness and relieve suffering, or to create as much freedom as possible in the world, or to promote the survival of our species, then you accept consequentialism.”

    For me there little difference between liberalism and consequentialism. What changes your mindset is understanding that while happiness, freedom, and survival are all quite lovely things, the actual purpose of morality is to give glory to God. Or perhaps to help us mold ourselves more into His image, which gives glory to God.

    Freedom, happiness,and even survival, are not moral choices in and of themselves,in fact they can be very immoral pursuits. Indiscriminate bombing usually falls under the justification or rationalization of needing to achieve “happiness, freedom,or survival.”

  • Ian says:

    Zippy,

    I started reading through some of your comments on those Crisis articles.

    One question: Take one of those infamous trolley problems. You’re on a runaway trolley and there are five people tied to the tracks. The only thing you can do to avoid running over these five people is to pull the lever to switch the trolley on to another track. But on that track is one person tied to the track.

    By pulling the lever, are you choosing an action deliberately to kill innocent life? This wouldn’t be something done ‘by accident’. Barring some unforeseen event, you are going to kill an innocent person by your action, and you know it.

  • Just saying it is so does not make it so. I have stated my reasons for disagreeing with you. I’d say we could agree to disagree on this point but I’m sure you would attribute my disagreement to an incapacity on my part to understand you. Am I correct?

  • Rhetocrates says:

    Zippy:

    However, very small children and infants are paradigmatically innocent. Under no circumstances is it licit to kill them on purpose — even a circumstance in which they are being used as human shields.

    We had some lengthy discussions a while back on the Ban (the killing of everyone among the conquered in several Old testament accounts). This probably isn’t the place to rehash all that (see “Biblical Literalism” in my sidebar as an entry point). But suffice to say for the current discussion that the premise is disputed.

    That’s fine. We don’t have to agree on everything. Suffice to say that I agree with St Thomas on this one. Which I mention not for authoritative name-dropping, but rather to expose the source of my reasoning. He’s been known to be wrong before.

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    I take the matter as having been settled by the Magisterium.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    No regime that professes liberal principle is liberal to the extent it does not fit the definition of liberalism (as you described) nor respect the rule of law.

    Then each and every regime that has existed in the entire history of mankind is simultaneously liberal and illiberal.

    This is because liberalism insists on freedom as a good in itself. Thus each and every act that each and every actor stands in potency to must be treated as good in itself. After all, freedom – the capacity to choose what one wishes to choose – is good in itself, so if an actor wills to act, that act must be good in itself.

    The problem is that not all acts are mutually compatible. Different people want different things, and to empower one actor is to restrict another. But restriction is unacceptable. Therein lies the contradiction: all actors must be empowered, but it is impossible to empower an actor without restricting another. All acts must be allowed, but at the same time all acts must be disallowed, because they interfere with other acts.

    So every society is liberal, because it empowers some actors in some respects. But every society is also illiberal, because it restricts some actors in some respects.

    I don’t see how a government non exclusively prioritizing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens leads to indiscriminate bombing.

    Situated in reality, this contradiction can then be used to justify literally anything one happens to desire. An actor can do literally anything in the name of freedom. And he’s right, because freedom requires all acts. But he’s also wrong, because freedom also forbids all acts. He just ignores that part.

    In the specific context of bombing innocents, e.g., Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the choice to bomb innocent people really did empower all sorts of actors to act in all sorts of ways, such as amoral politicians and cowardly soldiers. However, it also really did disempower all sorts of other actors from acting in all sorts of ways, such as virtuous politicians and soldiers, and the piles of bones where once there were cities.

    Furthermore, the “freedom” of those empowered was used to justify the bombing – it was used as the basis for acting – while the “freedom” of those disempowered was studiously ignored. Those “freed” from having to spend more resources and lives in order to conduct war in a just fashion are emphasized, while those who were forbidden from behaving virtuously – and indeed those who were forbidden from continuing to live at all – are overlooked.

    Can you really look at the invocation of freedom as the basis for acting, and conclude that freedom is in no way, shape, or form the cause of acting? Even if other things in other situations might potentially have been invoked as the basis for acting in a similar fashion? Even if Nazis invoked a different creed (though not as different as many believe) to produce similar actions?

    I find your hand-waving about looking for causes elsewhere simply because other regimes have also committed atrocities utterly incomprehensible. Different causes – different ideologies – can produce similar and even identical effects.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    Zippy:

    Probably. I’m just not completely convinced that it’s settled to your exact specifications. aka I need to do more reading.

    As a practical matter, though, and to continue the conversation:

    If it’s never acceptable to take any action in war that has a reasonable chance of so-called collateral damage, as a practical matter it’s never licit to go to war. Given that it is, in some circumstances, licit to go to war, not just in theory but in actual practice, it must therefore be acceptable in some circumstances to take actions that have a reasonable chance of collateral damage.

    I’m not claiming that’s your actual position, either. I’m proposing it as an extreme, with the purpose of ratcheting down from there.

    Also, I apologize if I came across as short or shutting down conversation. Sometimes I don’t put as much thought into replies as they deserve.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Re: Ian

    I am very far from convinced of the utility of the trolley problem for moral clarity. Joseph Moore over at Yard Sale of the Mind has had a couple posts touching on the subject. For a pretty good overview, go to the following post and take a gander at the first three images, the ones with a Simpson character in them: https://yardsaleofthemind.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/the-aca-practical-application-of-the-ends-versus-means-issue/

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    Your formulation is not a place to start from and ratcheting down isn’t the right process, because ‘collateral damage’ is an ambiguous term (doesn’t distinguish between accident and on purpose) and the moral norm against killing the innocent on purpose is an absolute exceptionless prohibition not a gradient.

  • Zippy says:

    winstonscrooge:

    “Agree to disagree” is just a way of saying that (at least) one of us is wrong (the disagree part), but we aren’t going to talk about it anymore (the agree part). I have no plans to stop talking about the subjects I cover here though, so that just leaves the disagree part.

  • T. Morris says:

    So you’re agreeing to disagree that you’re agreeing to disagree.

  • King Richard says:

    Rhetocrates
    ‘Civilian is a very modern distinction’

    The Pax Dei and Treuga Dei forbid all Christian men of the classes that could bear arms from:
    -Robbing churches, monasteries, convents, the poor, or peasants
    -Physically attacking any member of the clergy (unless they were armed!), any child, any virgin, widow, or wife,
    -burning churches, home, or fields
    -attacking or beating the defenseless, even male peasants
    -Fighting at certain times and on certain days
    etc.

    The *effectiveness* of the Pax et Treuga Dei might not have been as the Church wished, but there was a clear legal distinction between ‘combatants’ and ‘non-combatants’ no later than the 10th Century.

  • Much like “more restricted” is another way of saying “less free”.

  • Zippy says:

    Liberalism: We want to be free from excessive governance. Therefore government should prioritize not governing as justification for its actual authoritative acts of governance.

  • Zippy says:

    T. Morris:

    So you’re agreeing to disagree that you’re agreeing to disagree.

    I’m not so sure winstonscrooge agrees with that.

  • I wonder what right-liberals would think if instead of nuking two cities, Hirohito offered unconditional surrender if and only if Truman married Hirohito in a televised wedding. It could save millions of lives!

  • TomD says:

    Consequentialists will eventually be gay whores for Christ, I’m sure.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    Zippy,

    I’m pretty sure I’ve not been clear. So I’m going to try again, one last time, partially in an attempt to be convincing, because if we disagree, at least one of us is wrong, and leaving your fellow man in error is a lack of charity.

    Specifically, I’m not indulging in any sort of consequentialism here. I haven’t been directly accused of that, either, but since that’s the primary timbre in the air, it’s worth saying.

    We both agree on the criteria for moral action: that the intention must be acceptable, that the object (or, if you like, the objective circumstances) must be acceptable, and that the means must be acceptable. Only if all three of these are at least licit is an action at least licit.

    Where we differ is in the specifics for how to perform the moral calculus in the case of bombs (or other weapons of war, all of which disciminate to some greater or lesser degree, but none of which are ever perfectly co-terminous in their operation with the intention of the user).

    We also have some differences in hand about the validity of the object, but I’m willing to set that aside for the moment, as I’ve admitted I need to perform more scholarship before I feel competent holding a firm position. I also admit that the admixture between the two was contributing to confusion.

    I claim that it is possible to morally use a weapon that, as a practical matter, you are aware may very well kill innocents, so long as it is not in fact your intention to kill innocents. Note possible, not definite; it depends on the exact understanding of the situation. For example, bombing the palace of an African warlord who has intentionally surrounded said place with women and children may be allowable, depending on in the expert judgment of the person responsible for the bombing how likely it is to actually hurt those innocents, while accepting some likelihood as a practical matter. Hopefully a small likelihood; regular acceptance of large chances of so-called ‘collateral damage’ betrays a state of soul that isn’t actually all that interested in ensuring the objective goodness of the act, and therefore a soul that isn’t sufficiently interested in moral rectitude. It is, of course, always preferable to use a more discriminating weapon, if one is available in such a manner as to not likely cause more harm and suffering. But even with the most discriminating weapon, in deployment you always must accept a chance that, regardless of your intentions, you may very well hurt people who it would be objectively bad to hurt.

    At the same time, you’re right to point out that the nature of bombs, as a relatively indiscriminate weapon, should be realistically appraised by the commander who considers deploying them. Even precision bombs, when deployed in an ‘innocent-dense’ area, must be weighed as very likely to cause harm to people who shouldn’t be harmed, and so shouldn’t generally be used in those situations, where the included ‘generally’ is caveated by the expert judgment of the commander in how likely unacceptable harm is to take place. (For example, bombing a house with a valid target inside on a busy block with a lot of uninvolved people is quite different from bombing a house with a valid target inside on a block full of abandoned houses, as you’d agree.)

    And again, someone who cavalierly decides to use indiscriminate weapons in situations where their lack of discrimination is a problem in the object of action is betraying that he doesn’t actually have a healthy moral calculus, as you pointed out. But that doesn’t change the fact that I do think it’s licit, or can be so, to deploy such weapons while not intending they harm innocents. This requires, for example, an honest assessment that it’s not very likely to harm innocents as far as you can tell, but ‘not very likely’ is a subject for prudence rather than absolutes. (And it might include saying something like, “OK, it’s actually pretty likely, but there’s a chance it might not,” though you’d need a damn good defense.)

    King Richard:

    While all of that is true, none of it touches on the distinction of ‘civilian’, except as perhaps a sort of pre-definitional ground for it to grow some. When we use the word civilian, we are specifically referencing the trinitarian distinction of classes of people that underlies the modern concept of the State – there are representatives of said State, there are representatives of the forces of said State (military), and there are the third class of people – those who live subject to that State, but are not directly part of either of the other two classes. This last class is civilians. While many of the examples you gave would be classed as civilians by an analyst using that three-fold distinction, they are not invalid targets because they are civilians.

    Sorry for the larger-than-original-post harping on; I just think it’s an important topic to get exactly right.

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    We both agree on the criteria for moral action: that the intention must be acceptable, that the object (or, if you like, the objective circumstances) must be acceptable, and that the means must be acceptable. Only if all three of these are at least licit is an action at least licit.

    The terminology is confusing here, so I can’t tell if I agree. Object refers to the objective behavior chosen by the acting subject, not circumstances. “Means” sometimes colloquially refers to the object (behavior), but not always.

    Probabilistic framings are problematic and are beyond the scope of the OP, where I address situations where the acting subject unequivocally knows that he is killing innocents when he detonates the bomb. This certainly applies to the atomic and incendiary bombings of WWII. It wasn’t the intention of the OP to address situations beyond that scope, which is what you seem to be attempting, to wit:

    I claim that it is possible to morally use a weapon that, as a practical matter, you are aware may very well kill innocents, so long as it is not in fact your intention to kill innocents.

    That is true, with the proviso that every behavior you choose is intended. Accidents occur when something goes wrong: you’ve made due effort to ensure that your attack will not harm any innocents, but either an innocent person was present that you did not know about or something went wrong with the targeting, deployment, etc. If an innocent is harmed it can only be because the mission is a failure not a success: an always present mission criteria is that no innocents are harmed.

    There is a fundamental difference between accidental deaths and deliberate killing; indiscriminate acts of killing are deliberate killing.

  • Mike T says:

    If an innocent is harmed it can only be because the mission is a failure not a success: an always present mission criteria is that no innocents are harmed.

    The fact that innocents were harmed or killed does not mean the mission was a failure because there are plenty of scenarios where legitimate authorities must put innocents’ lives at risk in order to save them. That is an ugly reality of facing an enemy that does not respect Jus in Bello, particularly in a 4GW context. Your enemy won’t think twice about engaging you where they can put innocents in the cross fire. In many cases, the authorities cannot order their troops to retreat from such a scenario because there is a non-trivial chance that if they don’t engage the insurgents, they’ll escalate from hitting innocents in the crossfire to slaughtering them.

    I grant you that the methods of fighting back become constrained; you probably cannot call in artillery, CAS or anything else like that when in a marketplace and facing dozens of insurgents.

    The up side is that the laws of war are actually looser on what to do with such criminals once you get a clear shot or the advantage. It would be morally licit, for instance, to completely massacre an entire body of insurgents who are fighting like that even if they try to “surrender” because every fighter’s actions are objectively worthy of execution and their participation is ipso facto proof of their guilt.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    The fact that innocents were harmed or killed does not mean the mission was a failure

    Yes it does. One of the objectives of every legitimate mission is no harm to innocents. If that isn’t an objective then the mission is ipso facto illegitimate.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Re: MikeT

    Putting something at risk is distinct from destroying it yourself. Shooting back when the bad guys start a fight in a crowded marketplace is not the same kind of thing as bombing the marketplace yourself; the latter is the kind of behavior under discussion.

    Re: Zippy
    Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but I would be more inclined to say that we failed to obtain a particular objective than “the mission failed.” Failure in one aspect of the mission doesn’t necessarily mean the mission was a categorical failure. Perhaps that’s what MikeT’s trying to get at? I mean, I’d like to take that hill without any of my guys dying, and minimizing casualties is certainly a priority, but I wouldn’t call it a mission failure just because I lost some men.

  • Zippy says:

    Hrodgar:

    (Not objecting, just further clarifying).

    The sort of mission we are talking about is “kill the bad guys and survive ourselves”, and “ourselves” includes all innocent people with at least the same priority as our own guys. “Friendly fire” accidents do happen, and we shouldn’t tolerate “friendly fire” deaths of innocents any more readily than we would tolerate it killing our own guys.

    So a mission in which we accidentally kill innocents is like a mission in which we accidentally kill some of our own guys with friendly fire.

    Consider if – along with all the Japanese who were there – a battalion of our own people or allies were safely hunkered down at ground zero of Hiroshima, along with thousands of American women and children, as an ‘intuition pump’.

    Ultimately these discussions are all about dehumanizing innocent people when those innocent people are ‘of the enemy’.

  • Mike T says:

    Hrodgar,

    Something like that. Under Zippy’s standard you reach a point of paralysis which makes it impossible for legitimate authorities to wage just war.

    Under that standard we go from condemning the bombing of a building full of hostages to arguing that it is illicit for infantry to storm the building because civilians probably will get caught in the crossfire. So what is a legitimate authority to do, knowing that his troops aren’t perfect and some may accidentally hit a civilian while engaging the insurgent?

    If Hamas takes over a school and the IDF storms the building and goes room to room trying to carefully shoot only the Hamas fighters and civilians do die, you cannot say it was a failure under a boolean metric. The success is measured in the lives saved AND in how much the soldiers tried to avoid hurting innocents while trying to save them.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Under that standard we go from condemning the bombing of a building full of hostages to arguing that it is illicit for infantry to storm the building because civilians probably will get caught in the crossfire.

    How do you figure? That the same care should be taken as if the hostages were Americans (or Israeli, for the IDF example) doesn’t rule out storming the building.

    If Hamas takes over a school and the IDF storms the building and goes room to room trying to carefully shoot only the Hamas fighters and civilians do die, you cannot say it was a failure under a boolean metric.

    “Civilians die” is typical of the (supposedly) morally sanitizing abstraction here. The terrorists killing hostages is one thing. Our guys killing hostages – or our own guys – by accidental friendly fire is another. Our guys killing hostages through negligence yet another. Our guys killing hostages on purpose is still another.

    If these distinctions make you feel morally paralyzed then you probably aren’t qualified to be responsible for handling such a situation.

  • Mike T says:

    If these distinctions make you feel morally paralyzed then you probably aren’t qualified to be responsible for handling such a situation.

    The statement I replied to not only made no distinctions, but it cast all moral possibilities here in Manichean degrees of black and white.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Are you just ignoring the rest of the discussion? There is no false dichotomy between total mission success and total mission failure here.

    Killing our own people by friendly fire is always a mission failure — not a total mission failure, but a mission failure.

    Same goes with killing innocents more generally.

    Notwithstanding your typically bellicose meltdown, this is always true of every licit mission. It at least roughly describes a boundary condition for licit rules of engagement.

  • Mike T says:

    Are you just ignoring the rest of the discussion? There is no false dichotomy between total mission success and total mission failure here.

    ….

    If an innocent is harmed it can only be because the mission is a failure not a success: an always present mission criteria is that no innocents are harmed.

    o_O

    That looks like a very stark dichotomy to me.

    “Zippy is a failure” vs “Zippy is a failure at some things” are two rather different concepts.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    That looks like a very stark dichotomy to me.

    So you are ignoring the rest of the discussion.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    The notion of “innocent civilians” needs to be examined further. Adult civilians pay taxes to the enemy government, build and maintain roads and rail for the movement of war assets, and raise food to feed soldiers in addition to the direct manufacture of munitions. Children grow up to be enemy soldiers, thus civilian women are the ultimate enemy weapon in the long term. (Recall certain Islamic enemies explicitly refer to the “weapon of the womb.”)

    Any enemy with the social cohesion to wage war against us has the necessary propaganda to ensure the bulk of its civilian population will willingly materially assist it in war operations.

    “Democracies” have the additional factor that the bulk of the civilians vote, and thus nominally have ultimate responsibility for the decisions of the government — they are part of the enemy command structure.

    This situation raises an interesting conundrum: In wars where one side expects to be able to conquer the other very quickly, the stronger side would have little moral justification for targeting civilians, as their usefulness to the enemy war effort in the short run is very limited and they will all become members of the conquering side very soon regardless. This makes bombing of Japan after their first offer of conditional surrender (in May 1945 IIRC) with the terms MacArthur ultimately gave them seem quite dirty indeed.

    On the other hand, long wars of attrition such as the Israeli-Arab conflict would seem to justify much more brutal measures against civilians.

    An additional factor not generally discussed is the extent to which civilians in enemy countries are carriers for hostile memes / religions / heresies. Such civilians have been eradicated in large numbers with papal support in the past, for reasons that seem justified. There are also many examples of this in the OT with Divine sanction.

  • Zippy says:

    Accidentally killing a group of our own guys is a mission failure. Accidentally killing a bunch of civilians is a mission failure, if the mission is licit.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    The notion of “innocent civilians” needs to be examined further.

    I outlined my own view in this comment upthread.

    I don’t think ‘gestating children’ or ‘growing in the womb’ are going to fly as legitimate instances of choosing to materially support the war effort.

    There are also many examples of this in the OT with Divine sanction.

    No there aren’t. Or better said, that is at best one not-obviously-true interpretation among many incompatible interpretations. See here.

  • “One of the objectives of every legitimate mission is no harm to innocents. If that isn’t an objective then the mission is ipso facto illegitimate.”

    Innocents are harmed in EVERY single mission. That may not be your objective, but there is no way to go to war without harming innocents. Even the men you send in as troops can be perceived as innocents who will likely be harmed.

    We send cops out on a legitimate mission, with the objective of not harming innocents and yet innocents are still going to be harmed. There is PTSD, accidents, all sorts of problems that arise.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    Innocents are harmed in EVERY single mission.

    Read carefully. If you aren’t distinguishing between harming innocents in our own chosen behaviors versus innocents harmed through accidents or the acts of other people, you are not following the conversation.

    Every licit mission has, as one of its critical objectives, that those carrying out the mission will harm no innocents. Just as every mission has, as one of its critical objectives, that we will not kill one of our own guys ourselves.

    So yes, accidents happen. And yes, bad guys kill innocents. Neither of those counter the specific point being made here.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    Zippy:

    Turns out we substantially agree. Sorry about my sloppy terminology; I’ll blame lack of sleep and move on.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    One more thing to consider: the targetablity of an individual is completely disconnected from their moral worth. There were many Wehrmacht soldiers who sincerely believed that they were following legitimate authority — there were even SS officers such as Konrad Morgan who behaved in a moral (practically saintly) fashion. However, as they were still contributing to the German war efforts they were all legitimate targets.

  • “Read carefully. If you aren’t distinguishing between harming innocents in our own chosen behaviors versus innocents harmed through accidents or the acts of other people, you are not following the conversation.”

    I’m having a hard time distinguishing between “accidental harm, chosen behavior, and the acts of other people,” because those things are the very nature of war and the harming of innocents is going to happen, it is a given. In which case the mission objective is going to fail on some level, every single time.

    In my own mind I cannot reconcile war as a sin free thing, as a moral thing. I can certainly rationalize and justify the need for it, but I can find no way to label it objectively moral. Innocents are going to be harmed. Does labeling it accidental,unintentional,not the objective of the mission, change the nature of that harm? I suppose in a way it does, it’s certainly less immoral than just outright executing them, but “less immoral” is still not moral.

  • Does labeling it accidental,unintentional,not the objective of the mission, change the nature of that harm?

    It’s not a label, it’s a description. The acts are essentially different when in one case the bad result is unintentional and in the other it is intentional, which is why they are given different names. They are different things, and we can’t treat them as morally equivalent or morally similar.

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    If you were the one doing it you could easily tell the difference between bumping into someone on accident and punching him in the face on purpose. You could also easily tell the difference between things you do and things that someone else does.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “I outlined my own view in this comment upthread.”

    Presumably here:

    “Civilians who work in ball bearing plants which supply vehicle factories which build vehicles for the army are not “innocent” in my understanding, since they are choosing to materially support the war effort. ”

    This logic trivially extends to all taxpaying citizens, their wives, and basically all non-traitrous citizens capable of productive activity in the enemy country. Note that the vast majority of these people are morally innocent *including the soldiers*. Their targetablity is caused by their giving aid to the enemy, not by any moral failing of theirs.

    I agree that the very young should be treated as civilians of one’s own country, especially to the extent that the war is short and their hostile ideological conditioning is reversible. Naturally traitors in the enemy’s ranks should be given the same consideration.

    Zippy: “I don’t think ‘gestating children’ or ‘growing in the womb’ are going to fly as legitimate instances of choosing to materially support the war effort.”

    *Choosing* to materially support the war effort is irrelevant, only the fact of such support. The enemies’ slave soldiers and penal legions are legitimate targets. There are many cases in which women consider gestation to be participation in the war effort — and if the war drags on long enough and their children have proper obedience to (apparent) lawful authority, said children will become war materiel.

    The OT stories seem to be cases where the targeted population had become so infested with dangerous ideas (like virtue signalling through child sacrifice) that total extermination was the only safe way to deal with the situation given existing technology. The parallels to the Cathar purge are quite striking. The Church has not apologized for the purge, nor should it.

  • Wood says:

    Insanitybytes22,

    In my own mind I cannot reconcile war as a sin free thing, as a moral thing.

    I believe these are two different evaluations. In any sufficiently complex human endeavor there will be the likelihood of sin (marriage, child rearing for example) that doesn’t invalidate these endeavors. There are valid, moral reasons to engage in war. I can imagine circumstances such that not engaging in war would be immoral. However, especially given the stakes involved (and the fact that the consequences of sin in this particular situation may result in death and destruction) I would agree that there seem to be much greater limits on the moral reasons to engage in war and morals means by which we engage in war than most modern people are comfortable with.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    One more thing to consider: the targetablity of an individual is completely disconnected from their moral worth.

    That is a good point. “Innocent” as used in this discussion refers to the objective behaviors a person is choosing, not to the inner state of his soul, likeability, whether he is a good father, etc etc.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    *Choosing* to materially support the war effort is irrelevant, only the fact of such support.

    I disagree. The person must be choosing behaviors which proximately, materially support the war effort in order to qualify as a combatant.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: ““Innocent” as used in this discussion refers to the objective behaviors a person is choosing, …”

    In many cases the objective behavior the targeted person is choosing will be innocent as well: given their knowledge, they are taking the course of action most consistent with Divine Law. The enemy leadership they are supporting may be extremely wicked, but it is likely that they have no way of knowing that. They are assuming by default that their leadership has legitimate authority, which is *what they should do*, and acting accordingly.

    The deaths of noble enemy soldiers are *exactly as tragic* as the deaths of one’s own soldiers, as well as those of the civilians on both sides. Given this situation, the most moral course of action to a first approximation is to win the war with the minimum overall body count. This is typically done by winning as quickly as possible.

    Restricting the means by which one could achieve rapid victory risks prolonging the war, leading to more deaths of innocent people.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “I disagree. The person must be choosing behaviors which proximately, materially support the war effort in order to qualify as a combatant.”

    So it’s morally unacceptable to target the penal legions charging towards me, or the conscripts with the Commissar’s pistol at their backs? Such individuals can hardly be said to have much of a choice. In the future, we can expect this situation to get worse, with drugged, genetically engineered soldiers sent after us.

    If taking out a “civilian” measurably and immediately negatively affects the ability of the enemy to wage war, then by your definition that individual is a combatant. You will also find that the sorts of “civilians” who turn out to materially and proximately support the war effort will be quite unexpected.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    To inject another nit of realism, we should mention that there is a broad spectrum for war. Not all wars are wars of extermination, and not all wars are wars where one side considers the other some embodiment of evil. You can have wars between polities that recognize each others’ humanity, or even the validity of the other side’s aim in the war.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    In many cases the objective behavior the targeted person is choosing will be innocent as well.

    Presuming that we are waging a just war, that is simply false. If it isn’t false then we aren’t waging a just war.

    Again “innocent” doesn’t refer to some subjective or spiritual state: it refers to the objective behaviors being chosen by the combatant.

    Such individuals can hardly be said to have much of a choice.

    Nevertheless they are, in fact, choosing attacking behaviors. That they might unjustly face terrible consequences if they refuse doesn’t justify their behaviors any more than it justifies ours.

    If taking out a “civilian” measurably and immediately negatively affects the ability of the enemy to wage war, then by your definition that individual is a combatant.

    Not at all. Killing all of the enemy’s women and children may have that effect, but this does not render it licit.

  • Zippy says:

    Usually when people say “I had no choice”, what they actually mean is “I really didn’t like any of my morally good options”.

    But not liking your morally good options doesn’t change evil options into good options.

  • Zippy says:

    Way upthread Craig N asked:

    Would siege warfare be inherently immoral? There are some obvious differences between sieges and bombs, but from the attacker’s point of view besieging a city is at least as indiscriminate as lobbing explosives over the walls.

    From my point of view a siege or blockade is not intrinsically immoral as long as those who come out and surrender are given food, etc and treated humanely. The siege itself is not a killing behavior; food, light, and life await anyone who chooses to walk out the gate. If people on the inside prevent other people on the inside from surrendering, it is this active prevention which may be a killing behavior (depending, as always, on the details of what individuals actually choose to do).

    A siege or blockade without an option of peaceful humane surrender is analogous to strangulation, and is in my view intrinsically immoral.

  • “If you were the one doing it you could easily tell the difference between bumping into someone on accident and punching him in the face on purpose.”

    In all honesty Zippy, I often cannot reason my way through that at all. I imagine there could be a moral reason to punch someone in the face deliberately. Conversely, your accident could be due to complete negligence.

    Did we punch Japan in the face in order to save lives, accidentally killing a bunch of innocents or did we deliberately kill a bunch of innocents as a way to punch Japan in the face? I honestly don’t know the answer to that. Did we at the time, fully understand what destruction we were going to cause?

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    I imagine there could be a moral reason to punch someone in the face deliberately.

    Correct.

    Now substitute “kill an innocent person” for “punch someone in the face”. There is never, under any circumstance or in the pursuit of any end whatsoever, a moral justification for killing an innocent person deliberately. It is always and without exception immoral to do so.

    (You can substitute other intrinsically immoral behaviors here too: commit adultery, etc).

    Conversely, your accident could be due to complete negligence.

    Correct again.

    In the case of an accident, something which happens against your will but in which you accidentally played a causal role, your degree of moral culpability depends precisely on this point: on whether you did or did not exercise due care, the degree of negligence, how important was the goal that you were trying to accomplish, etc.

    Accident is a fundamentally different moral category from on purpose (deliberate). And certain kinds of behaviors must never, under any circumstance or for any reason whatsoever, be deliberately chosen. Among these behaviors are killing the innocent, sodomy, adultery, rape, usurious lending, and others.

    Also, of course, we are primarily responsible for the behaviors that we choose. Behaviors that other people choose are also morally accidental when evaluating our own behaviors, unless we intend those behaviors-of-other-people. (Intending the behaviors-of-other-people is called “formal cooperation”).

    Without this basic foundation we just have utilitarian subjectivist moral relativism.

    Did we punch Japan in the face in order to save lives, accidentally killing a bunch of innocents or did we deliberately kill a bunch of innocents as a way to punch Japan in the face.

    The latter, obviously — the punch being a metaphor, and the “kill a bunch of innocents” being the actual behavior we actually chose.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    “Innocent” basically means “one to whom there is never a moral license to cause harm.”

  • Zippy says:

    Also, it isn’t as though the difference between murder, manslaughter (accidentally killing someone out of negligence), and non-culpable accident is some great mystery. I think people just lose their minds when thinking about war; and especially when thinking about the Great Holy War, World War II.

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    “Innocent” basically means “one to whom there is never a moral license to cause harm.”

    Innocent implies that, but then you just end up with a tautology (like saying that murder is “unjust killing”).

    Innocent means that the person has not chosen and is not choosing a harmful behavior warranting a proportionate response from those with authority. (Negligent behaviors are also harmful, even though the harm caused is accidental).

    In a context of prosecuting a just war, an innocent person is someone who has not and is not choosing behaviors which make a proximate material contribution to the enemy’s aggression against the just war defendant nation.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    Zippy:

    That was meant as a clarification for the discussion, not a justification of the term. The term itself isn’t tautological as you point out, but any claim that intending harm to innocents is okay is automatically wrong, and if seeing that as a contradiction in terms helps, good.

  • Zippy says:

    Rhetocrates:

    Gotcha.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “Usually when people say “I had no choice”, what they actually mean is “I really didn’t like any of my morally good options”.”

    Okay, we can work with this.

    Assume we are in a just war: in this case the enemy soldiers and civilians objectively should stop fighting us / paying taxes / maintaining infrastructure / encouraging their children to become soldiers, etc. They likely don’t know that they should do this, and are thus blameless. The instant they figure out that they are on the wrong side of the war they are morally obligated to become traitors, cease all contribution to the enemy war effort, and embrace martyrdom.

    (By this logic, slave soldiers have more reason than most to suspect their leadership is evil and should thus be more willing to be martryed resisting it.)

    In this context, basically all of the enemy citizens are contributing to the war effort to some degree. Most are *choosing* to contribute. The extent of their contribution can be determined by observing how much the enemy war effort would be compromised were they to be killed.

    In order to minimize the total number of relatively guiltless people killed, we should target the “combatants” that help the enemy war effort the most first. In modern warfare this will likely not be soldiers. Better targets would be civilians working in logistics: railyard workers, power plant engineers, etc. These civilians are combatants by your standards: they are likely patriotic and know their work aids the war effort (they may not know the degree.)

    Enemy priests and journalists who encourage the enemy war effort are likely even better targets by this metric: killing them may break enemy morale, leading to a quick victory.

    At this point we have eliminated almost all operational differences between winning the war as expediently as possible and winning the war as morally as possible.

    For example, consider our original case of civilians living near bomb targets. These civilians know that they are living in proximity to others who are choosing to materially help the war effort. By choosing to remainin near the targets they are increasing the cost of bombing the targets, thus making bombing the targets less attractive. *The choice to live near a bomb target thus materially aids the enemy war effort*, making the civilians into combatants and thus legitimate targets.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    “Choosing behaviors which provide proximate material support to the war effort” doesn’t have the kind of infinite elasticity you are attempting to ascribe to it. Infinitely plastic terms tend to make it possible to forcibly produce the outcome you want — which is precisely what appears to be your methodology in this discussion.

    I mean, everyone who uses the Internet arguably provides remote material support to porn producers. So if you use the Internet you materially support porn; and since porn production deserves prison everyone who uses the Internet deserves prison.

    This is what I meant when I said that abstraction is a source of endless mischief. People who engage in incontinent abstraction need to be confined to monasteries.

  • Wood says:

    Robert Brockman,

    making the civilians into combatants and thus legitimate targets.

    Your comments seems to suggest this is your motivation. To make “civilians” into combatants and therefore to justify your earlier comment about expediency or quickness to ending war. But I don’t read the Church speaking this way. You seem to give the benefit of the doubt to the notion that pretty much everyone is a combatant. I took the Church to say quite differently: that one couldn’t be a combatant by accident. On your view was the atomic bombing of WWII immoral?

  • Wood says:

    Maybe I’m confused though. I was thinking through within the context of just war. And I took just war to mean that one side was objectively moral to be engaging in war and one side was objectively immoral to be engaging in war. Therefore people in the immoral camp may be confused but that doesn’t change the fact that they are cooperating with objective immorality. Similar to any other objectively immoral act. It seems “war” shouldn’t have some special mystery around it.

  • Zippy says:

    Part of the reason I focus on infants and small children as the paradigmatic case of innocents is because of nonsense like this:

    By choosing to remain near the targets they are increasing the cost of bombing the targets, thus making bombing the targets less attractive. *The choice to live near a bomb target thus materially aids the enemy war effort*, making the civilians into combatants and thus legitimate targets.

    Factory which makes ball bearings for tanks: legitimate target, absent any additional disqualifying fact.

    Add a daycare to the factory: not a legitimate target. The children in that daycare are not choosing any behaviors materially supporting the war effort. Merely existing in a place that you would like to destroy does not turn an innocent person into a combatant.

    And abstraction is a great way to ignore inconvenient disqualifying facts.

  • Zippy says:

    Wood:

    It seems “war” shouldn’t have some special mystery around it.

    The reason “but this is War!!!” is supposed to carry special mystery to it is that almost everyone sees war as an opportunity to literally get away with murder.

  • There’s also this nonsense:

    in this case the enemy soldiers and civilians objectively should stop fighting us / paying taxes / maintaining infrastructure / encouraging their children to become soldiers, etc.

    The idea that because one group is fighting on the wrong side of a just war that they should basically shut down the government and their military is obviously ridiculous. They should stop engaging in attacking behaviors; but there’s no reason to stop building roads, maintaining a military, paying taxes, etc.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “Add a daycare to the factory: not a legitimate target. The children in that daycare are not choosing any behaviors materially supporting the war effort. Merely existing in a place that you would like to destroy does not turn an innocent person into a combatant.”

    The children at the daycare that are incapable of choosing to be elsewhere are not combatants. The teachers at the daycare have chosen to be near the factory. Their presence would decisively prevent you from bombing the factory, thus having an immediate impact on the enemy war effort, thus making them combatants.

    Zippy: “Merely existing in a place that you would like to destroy does not turn an innocent person into a combatant.”

    *Choosing* to be at the location definitely does. It affects the targeting decisions: moral people will choose to bomb a factory with fewer people near it so as to increase the “hindrance to the enemy war effort per unit death” ratio, even if all of the people are combatants.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Wood: “I took the Church to say quite differently: that one couldn’t be a combatant by accident.”

    The Church never seemed to have had a problem with large scale liquidation of Cathar heretic civilians. Said civilians were probably well meaning in their heresy and sincerely believed that they were orthodox. However, they were objectively choosing to further the Enemy’s war plans and were thus on the target list.

    Wood: “On your view was the atomic bombing of WWII immoral?”

    Yes, though the 1000 plane raid that took place afterwards was worse. The war could have ended much earlier had the Allies accepted Japanese surrender under the terms that MacArthur ended up granting them. Everyone who died in the Pacific Theater after that time did so to further Allied bloodlust, pride, and a desire to intimidate other nations with a brutal show of force, none of which had anything to do with the moral objective of winning the war with a minimum loss of *morally* innocent life, both soldier and civilian, on all sides.

    [Attributions corrected. -Z]

  • Robert Brockman says:

    “And abstraction is a great way to ignore inconvenient disqualifying facts.”

    The soldier / civilian abstraction is not legitimate and is the source of the problem. Once we have determined that most of the enemy population is choosing to further the enemy war effort we can get started on the *real* work: that of figuring out how to kill the fewest *morally* innocent people on all sides to achieve victory. Some people are *more combatant-like* than others, they should be targeted first, regardless of whether or not they are “soldiers.”

  • Robert Brockman says:

    TimFinnegan:

    “The idea that because one group is fighting on the wrong side of a just war that they should basically shut down the government and their military is obviously ridiculous.”

    They are morally obligated at a minimum to stop contributing to the war effort in any way once they know the score. This will almost certainly get them imprisoned or killed, at which point they have little to lose (and much morally to gain) by engaging in active sabotage.

    Tim: “They should stop engaging in attacking behaviors; but there’s no reason to stop building roads, maintaining a military, paying taxes, etc.”

    In modern war, building roads, maintaining a military, and paying taxes *is* attacking behavior. “Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.” There’s a big freeway interchange near where I live that is most assuredly on the nuclear target list, and would still be even if ~500k people weren’t in the blast radius.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “I mean, everyone who uses the Internet arguably provides remote material support to porn producers. So if you use the Internet you materially support porn; and since porn production deserves prison everyone who uses the Internet deserves prison.”

    This is an excellent thought experiment which illuminates my key points.

    First, almost none of the enemy combatants (soldier or civilian) deserve death or imprisonment. They are not being punished for behaving immorally, their death / imprisonment is *tragic* and is to be minimized. Anger and hatred towards them is unjust and inappropriate.

    What we want to do is *rank order* the amount of material support each combatant provides and neutralize (ideally without violence!) them in that order if at all possible.

    In the case of a hypothetical war on porn, arresting the pornographers and intentional distributors would solve the problem without the need to target “low-level porn combatants” who unintentionally support porn by using the internet. *Quantification* of the threat is important.

    To continue the analogy, there might be some top porn distributors who considered that distribution of porn was morally correct based on obedience to seemingly legitimate authority. Such distributors would still have to be put out of action, but we would not find them morally culpable. Any inconvenience they suffered in the War on Porn would be a (comparatively minor) tragedy.

  • William Luse says:

    *The choice to live near a bomb target thus materially aids the enemy war effort*, making the civilians into combatants and thus legitimate targets.

    God almighty. Unborn children and infants choosing to live near a bomb target. Yeah, they should have known better.

  • Step2 says:

    Bill,
    Those are no ordinary infants. They are the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered infants you ever set eyes on. They’ve got a vicious streak a mile wide. Fortunately, we have the Holy Hand Grenade which will blow the Lord’s enemies to tiny bits, in His mercy.

  • Zippy says:

    I consider “if you don’t move away from where you live that makes you a combatant” to be a reductio ad absurdam of Robert Brockman’s approach.

    Also notice that the argument is a kind of ouroboros: if noncombatants living near a ball bearing factory makes them combatants because that makes bombing the factory more difficult, why does the presence of combatants make bombing the factory more difficult? The rubber band has snapped, those terms are so elastic.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Bill / Step2: Under Zippy’s definition of combatant, the babies / children have not chosen to materially aid the war effort and thus are not combatants. My claim is that under Zippy’s definition of combatant, virtually everyone else is. For the purposes of this discussion, everyone on the potential target list, from soldiers to babies, is morally blameless.

    Zippy wants a moral standard in which actions that lead to the death of any non-combatant are prohibited. This requires a binary standard for whether or not someone is a combatant. I’ve made this difficult by introducing a large number of “marginal combatants”, people who fit Zippy’s definition but clearly should be a much lower target priority.

    If Zippy accepts that being a combatant is a matter of degree rather than a binary decision, this suggests that targeting decisions should be made on the basis of destroying the “least amount of non-combativeness per unit of enemy military effectiveness reduction.” But this is no good from Zippy’s perspective, because it allows the possibility of killing a few individuals with zero combativeness (say, babies) as part of setting off a bomb that ends the entire war.

    Zippy wants military planners to do better than “achieve victory with the fewest deaths of non-wicked individuals on all sides.” He wants military planners to achieve victory with zero intentional deaths of non-combatants. I’m not sure this is actually better.

    Regardless, I think we can agree that it would be a nice start for military planners to value the lives of enemy soldiers and civilians as being something close to that of friendlies (as opposed to zero as is traditional.)

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “If noncombatants living near a ball bearing factory makes them combatants because that makes bombing the factory more difficult, why does the presence of combatants make bombing the factory more difficult? The rubber band has snapped, those terms are so elastic.”

    If I value the lives of all non-wicked people roughly equally, the presence of such people in the vicinty of the factory increases the cost of bombing the factory while not proportionally increasing the military effectiveness of such a strike. This is especially true if the only contributions of these combatants to the war effort is to act as voluntary human shields for the factory. Their presence makes other targets more attractive.

    The math on this is consistent.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    My claim is that under Zippy’s definition of combatant, virtually everyone else is. For the purposes of this discussion, everyone on the potential target list, from soldiers to babies, is morally blameless.

    This is the way this works. First, assume Zippy is a positivist. Ignore the word “proximate”. Then, bomb the world!

    Zippy wants military planners to do better than “achieve victory with the fewest deaths of non-wicked individuals on all sides.” He wants military planners to achieve victory with zero intentional deaths of non-combatants.

    That isn’t what “Zippy wants”. That is what the fact that deliberately killing the innocent is always immoral entails.

  • They are morally obligated at a minimum to stop contributing to the war effort in any way once they know the score

    No they are not. Remote material cooperation with evil can sometimes be justified, especially if the cooperation is extremely remote (living within atomic-bomb-radius of a legitimate military target for example). If remote material cooperation with evil were never justified, most of us would not be able to function as human beings in modern society.

    In modern war, building roads, maintaining a military, and paying taxes *is* attacking behavior.

    If this is true, then every country in the world is engaged in attacking behaviors against every other country in the world.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    If remote material cooperation with evil were never justified, most of us would not be able to function as human beings in modern society.

    Quite. A minimal requirement for a person to be not-innocent in the pertinent sense is proximate material cooperation with the attacking behaviors perpetrated by the aggressor nation. If you can point to their work product on the battlefield as a not-immaterial tactical part of the aggressor nation’s aggressive acts, the place where they do that work is probably a legitimate target even when they are present — assuming no other disqualifying facts. But the presence of innocents disqualifies any and all targets, unless the targeting can discriminate and not harm the innocents present.

    Importantly, these are all objective criteria. They don’t require us to peer into the souls of people and find good or evil.

    It does not follow that choice of actions are entirely separate from subjective states, which is a ridiculous strawman. We don’t try murderers for being bad and unsympathetic people: we try them for choosing to commit murder.

  • If you can point to their work product on the battlefield as a not-immaterial tactical part of the aggressor nation’s aggressive acts, the place where they do that work is probably a legitimate target even when they are present

    I do personally have some qualms viewing as a combatant the guy who, for instance, makes ball bearings for tanks. Is this cooperation proximate enough? That’s a prudential judgment that for the time being I’m glad I do not have to make.

    While it may be a bit romanticized, I do think there is something more humane about the way war is done in movies like The Two Towers or The Patriot: two armies going out to a field or the wall of a city, with all the non-combatants a safe distance away.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    We don’t try murderers for being bad and unsympathetic people: we try them for choosing to commit murder.

    To amplify this: the penalties under the law for first-degree (pre-meditated) murder are different than for second-degree (unmeditated) murder are different than for manslaughter (direct killing) through negligence are different than for gross negligence resulting in a death are different from attempted murder.

    Which goes to show that even the modern law can distinguish quite easily between various different objective and subjective configurations, and considers them all important.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    Keep in mind that just because someone is a combatant doesn’t mean “you may kill them with impunity”. It isn’t licit to kill combatants for just any old reason or under any circumstances. That a person or group of persons are combatants is a necessary but not sufficient reason to kill them.

    And it is never licit to kill innocents under any circumstances whatsoever.

  • That a person or group of persons are combatants is a necessary but not sufficient reason to kill them.

    This helps. I’m still very glad that today I am not a soldier having to make those decisions under difficult circumstances and with very little time to consider them. It’s no wonder PTSD is such a common disease for soldiers fighting modern wars.

  • “It’s no wonder PTSD is such a common disease for soldiers fighting modern wars.”

    I remember a couple of young guys from the first gulf war. They never saw anything,they drove through in the after math of war and picked up people already in body bags. Everything was sanitized, sterile, non violent from their perspective. Those guys had some of the worst PTSD I’d ever seen. They couldn’t reason,rationalize,and moralize what was happening,they couldn’t even see the nature of death and war,it was all hidden from them, but they felt it,they sensed it, they just weren’t allowed to feel it or experience it. Often the unknown and imagined becomes far worse than the actual truth.

    I like what Zippy said about how, “just because someone is a combatant doesn’t mean “you may kill them with impunity.” I’m not sure you can ever kill someone with impunity, but in a purely legal sense that is quite true. There are rules of engagement that come into play. Because of our more modern forms of warfare we’re losing that concept and that’s scary.

  • rociomatamoros says:

    Robert Brockman: total extermination was the only safe way to deal with the situation given existing technology. The parallels to the Cathar purge are quite striking. … The Church never seemed to have had a problem with large scale liquidation of Cathar heretic civilians.

    You’ve made some interesting points (although I agree with Zippy’s criticisms), but I think you should drop this one, since it’s on the fringes of anti-Catholic black-legend territory. The story goes that the siege of Béziers, in 1209, ended in a massacre of the entire population, with 20,000 deaths as the most-often cited figure, carried out under the notorious order of an abbot: “Kill them all, God will know his own.”

    The story is false. 20,000 exceeds the estimated maximum population by over 5000. The abbot (Arnaud Amaury) to whom the words are attributed was not present when the killing began after the end of the siege. The words did not appear in any contemporary local chronicle, but only in a chronicle from at least a decade later that was written hundreds of miles away by someone who had not witnessed the events.

    The story is preserved in journalistic and popular accounts, but a serious historian of the period writing recently, Jacques Berlioz, has calculated the deaths to be in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands. The killing was clearly not indiscriminate (whatever criticisms might be made of it), so the Church’s “lack of apology” (as you say) for the events of the popular myth cannot have any bearing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “A minimal requirement for a person to be not-innocent in the pertinent sense is proximate material cooperation with the attacking behaviors perpetrated by the aggressor nation. If you can point to their work product on the battlefield as a not-immaterial tactical part of the aggressor nation’s aggressive acts, the place where they do that work is probably a legitimate target even when they are present — assuming no other disqualifying facts.”

    We are now at the point where I believe I can force a logical contradiction:

    Assume the ball-bearing factory is a militarily significant target, such that destroying it makes victory meaningfully closer. Under normal circumstances it would be bombed. However, a *non-combatant* has decided to move into cheap housing near the factory. Now the factory *cannot be bombed*. Thus the “work product on the battlefield” of the non-combatant is to serve as an infinitely effective AA gun defending the factory.

    The non-combatant has voluntarily chosen a behavior that objectively, proximately, and materially affects battlefield tactics in a way that benefits the aggressor nation. His *motive* for taking this action — to get cheap rent — is not relevant to his targetability. This “non-combatant” thus meets all of your criteria for being a combatant, so we have a contradiction.

  • The atomic bombings (and other firebombings of Japan) were not targeted specifically at legitimate military targets, and thus constituted murder.

    OTOH, I’m not aware of any magisterial support for Zippy’s claim that any act in war which will certainly have the effect of killing innocents is immoral. Certainly, many theologians can be cited in support of the view that targeting a military target, even with the knowledge that innocents will die, is morally licit.

    The munitions factory demonstrates this quite well. While Zippy puts a lot of stock in the proximate/remote distinction, he blatantly ignores the fact that even proximate cooperation with evil (particularly if the evil will happen whether or not one cooperates) can be justified if the situation is serious enough. So if workers in a factory are compelled to work there under threat of death or imprisonment, they are not objectively doing anything wrong, even if they are fully aware of the wrongfulness of their side’s war effort. Yet it is licit to bomb the factory anyway.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    rociomatamoros:

    “The story is false. 20,000 exceeds the estimated maximum population by over 5000. The abbot (Arnaud Amaury) to whom the words are attributed was not present when the killing began after the end of the siege.”

    Wikipedia claims to have the text of Amaury’s report on the incident to the Pope. Relevant excerpt:

    “Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword almost 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoiled and burnt, as divine vengeance miraculously raged against it.”

    Amaury had command responsibility for this operation. He was not disciplined by the Pope for misrepresenting the situation nor for whatever killings did take place. In this way, the Pope endorsed wholesale liquidation of heretical towns. This puts Innocent III (and subsequent Popes who did not condemn this event) in opposition to Zippy.

  • Wood says:

    Robert Brockman,

    Thus the “work product on the battlefield” of the non-combatant is to serve as an infinitely effective AA gun defending the factory….The non-combatant has voluntarily chosen a behavior that objectively, proximately, and materially affects battlefield tactics in a way that benefits the aggressor nation.

    I disagree. Zippy has also written that optimization is wickedness (sorry don’t have the link). The fact that there are people we can’t morally kill may indeed limit our combat options and this may even prolong war. But it seems perverse to think that because non-combatants limit our morally licit options in war they somehow therefore definitionally become combatants.

  • The atomic bombings (and other firebombings of Japan) were not targeted specifically at legitimate military targets, and thus constituted murder.

    OTOH, I’m not aware of any magisterial support for Zippy’s claim that any act in war which will certainly have the effect of killing innocents is immoral.

    That isn’t why the bombings were immoral, and you haven’t correctly stated the claim. The claim is that if the killing of innocents is essential to the act, it is immoral. It is not about the probabilistic certainty of having an effect of killing innocents, it is a matter of what the act essentially entails. The essence of bombs is that it kills whoever is in the fatal blast radius, so the killing of innocents was part of the essence of the atomic bombings (and fire bombings), not an effect of it.

  • But it seems perverse to think that because non-combatants limit our morally licit options in war they somehow therefore definitionally become combatants.

    It’s also ridiculous. By that logic, the only reason the person is a combatant is because the material aid that his non-combatant status provides. One cannot simultaneously be both a combatant and a non-combatant.

  • Tim,

    That the action of dropping a bomb has for its object the killing of every person within a certain blast radius (which one?) is precisely what I’m disputing.

  • ArkansasReactionary:

    You said it was Zippy’s claim that “any act in war which will certainly have the effect of killing innocents is immoral.” This is not Zippy’s claim. Zippy is claiming that the killing is not an effect of the bomb but something which is essential to the act of detonating a bomb.

    That the action of dropping a bomb has for its object the killing of every person within a certain blast radius (which one?) is precisely what I’m disputing.

    So, in other words, the havoc and death wreaked by the bomb is accidental to detonating a bomb and not essential to it?

  • Robert Brockman says:

    TimFinnegan:

    “It’s also ridiculous. By that logic, the only reason the person is a combatant is because the material aid that his non-combatant status provides.”

    Not quite. Even the presence of *combatants* near a military target decreases the value of bombing it, possibly enough to force a change in targeting decision.

    “One cannot simultaneously be both a combatant and a non-combatant.”

    Exactly. Therefore the residents near the target are combatants by Zippy’s definition. The claim that they are non-combatants is logically incoherent while the claim that they are combatants probably is. (If it isn’t, then Zippy’s definition is totally broken.) Note that I’m not invoking optimization at this point.

    —-

    The problem here is that something important is still missing from Zippy’s definition of a combatant. He wants munitions workers to be targetable but the neighbors not to be, while still basing the distinction on objective behavior and effects on military effectiveness but not motive.

    I’m not sure how we get out of this situation. The best bet might be to declare strategic warfare of all kinds immoral: if someone isn’t actively using a weapon against you then they can’t be targeted. (This notion has a certain Klingon appeal.)

  • So, in other words, the havoc and death wreaked by the bomb is accidental to detonating a bomb and not essential to it?

    The harm inflicted on those who were not the targets is accidental, yes.

    You haven’t answered the question, which blast radius is it that makes the deaths essential? As Bruce explained earlier, that term is equivocal.

  • He wants munitions workers to be targetable but the neighbors not to be, while still basing the distinction on objective behavior and effects on military effectiveness but not motive.

    The behavior of a munitions worker is objectively different than someone just living next to a munitions factory. It is also the case that the munitions worker is providing material aid to the aggressive acts of the aggressor nation which is much more proximate than whatever real or imagined aid the guy living next to the munitions factory provides.

    Not quite. Even the presence of *combatants* near a military target decreases the value of bombing it, possibly enough to force a change in targeting decision.

    Your original claim was this:

    However, a *non-combatant* has decided to move into cheap housing near the factory. Now the factory *cannot be bombed*. Thus the “work product on the battlefield” of the non-combatant is to serve as an infinitely effective AA gun defending the factory.

    You were claiming that this is what makes the person in question a combatant. If it is the case that the person is a combatant, then the above claim that his presence means the factory cannot be bombed, which means what for our non-combatant-combatant? Whether or not we are allowed to bomb the facility is at least partially dependent on the classification of this person, therefore the classification cannot be dependent on whether or not we can bomb the facility with him present.

  • You haven’t answered the question, which blast radius is it that makes the deaths essential? As Bruce explained earlier, that term is equivocal.

    The radius within which we have moral certainty that the people within it will die by the blast of detonating the bomb. That radius is very large for bombs like the atomic bomb and very small for bombs like a grenade, but it is there.

    The harm inflicted on those who were not the targets is accidental, yes.

    If somebody who we knew was there is literally vaporized or incinerated by our bomb, how is it possible that they were not targeted?

  • Robert Brockman says:

    ArkansasReactionary: “So if workers in a factory are compelled to work there under threat of death or imprisonment, they are not objectively doing anything wrong, even if they are fully aware of the wrongfulness of their side’s war effort.”

    The workers can always choose death or imprisonment rather than building munitions. Thus they are objectively and *knowingly* aiding an unjust war effort by giving in to coercion. This is “material cooperation with evil.” Courageously being killed rather than cowardly engaging in material cooperation with evil is known as “martydom” and makes the exit interview with Saint Peter much easier.

  • The radius within which we have moral certainty that the people within it will die by the blast of detonating the bomb. That radius is very large for bombs like the atomic bomb and very small for bombs like a grenade, but it is there.

    Ah, so certainty about the effects does play a role in specifying the object.

    If somebody who we knew was there is literally vaporized or incinerated by our bomb, how is it possible that they were not targeted?

    The same way someone we didn’t know about would be not-targeted. Foreseeing a death doesn’t make the act intrinsically evil.

    The workers can always choose death or imprisonment rather than building munitions.

    Sure, and I could go to Saudi Arabia and try to evangelize people. Would be meritorious, but such is not of moral obligation and does not make me an aggressor, in any sense. Likewise with the workers.

  • rociomatamoros says:

    Robert Brockman: Wikipedia claims to have the text of Amaury’s report on the incident to the Pope.

    I’ve looked at the relevant English-language Wikipedia pages now. The article on Arnaud Amalric (= Amaury) gives only an incomplete title and no page number in the footnote for the quotation you give. I’ve traced it to p.123 of M.D. Costen: The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. Cistern comments: “In the official report, sent by Arnald-Amalric to the Pope, the legates claimed that 20,000 people had been killed (PL 216: col. 139). The city probably had a population of about 10,000 …”

    You might also be referring to the Wikipedia article “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”, which refers, in fn.2, to an internet page that tells us of men (including clergy), women and children being slaughtered in a church in Béziers. The author of that page has the information second hand, and fails to realise that the primary source is a purported interview with a ghost, who was asked whether the events at Béziers were pleasing to God – he replies in the positive, and provides lurid details.

    I don’t have a copy at hand of Berlioz’s reputedly very thorough monograph on the matter, so I can’t summarise his reasoning for his figure of hundreds (rather than 20,000) right now. But I think you’ll have to agree that the evidence for the massacre of the whole town is precarious at least.

    Even so, if, just for the sake of argument, we were to say it was all true, what would follow from that? That an indiscriminate wholesale massacre at Béziers had the full weight of the Magisterium behind it as the foundation of an abiding ethical principle? And that this in turn must make St Thomas’s later arguments on jus in bello an act of disobedience?

    In any case, as Zippy had to argue in the Crisis Magazine comments, the Church does not normally issue condemnations of particular acts, but provides the ethical principles by which acts can be judged evil or otherwise.

    Should I take it that your main interest here is not events in the reign of Innocent III, but rather the fact that U.S. soldiers have used “Kill them all. God/Allah will sort them out.” as a slogan in Vietnam and Iraq?

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    That the action of dropping a bomb has for its object the killing of every person within a certain blast radius (which one?) is precisely what I’m disputing.

    This is just the usual precious proposal that a person can knowingly, deliberately choose to directly kill another person in his own behavior without intending to kill his victim.

  • Zippy says:

    The counterclaim seems to be that there is some middle ground between accidental and deliberate killing: a middle ground constructed out of purely subjective intentions, intentions contrary to deliberately chosen objective behavior. The idea seems to be that a person can choose to kill specific targeted innocent human beings in his own act without intending to kill them. The idea seems to be that a person can knowingly choose a behavior without intending that specific behavior.

    This radical anti-realist subjectivism is a manifest hash of nonsense.

  • Zippy says:

    Veritatis Splendour:

    But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the “creativity” of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.

    There is a whole lotta “creativity” involved in rationalizing away moral responsibility for deliberately killing innocents with bombs.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    Therefore the residents near the target are combatants by Zippy’s definition.

    Are you under the impression that blatantly mischaracterizing other peoples’ positions is somehow helpful to your rhetoric?

  • Ah, so certainty about the effects does play a role in specifying the object

    No, because the death isn’t an effect of the bomb, it is part of the essence of what it means to detonate a bomb. You might as well say that death is an “effect” of chopping someone’s head off with a guillotine; that one could potentially chop someone’s head off with a guillotine without intending to kill that person.

    The same way someone we didn’t know about would be not-targeted. Foreseeing a death doesn’t make the act intrinsically evil.

    This is where Zippy’s example of issuing driver’s licenses is useful: death by motor vehicle accident is foreseen as a morally certain effect of issuing them, but it is not part of the object of issuing driver’s licenses that people should die in wrecks; the deaths are accidental.

    When we drop a bomb on people (or chop their head off, or take any number of other behaviors), the death of the people we choose to take this behavior against is not just foreseen, it is what we directly do as our act. If it’s possible to detonate a bomb right next to a baby that we know is there without intending to kill that baby, then all sorts of things become not intrinsically immoral, like stealing cars, watching pornography, donning a condom before having sex, etc.

    It is also the case that if we didn’t know someone is there, we cannot foresee their death, so the two cases are not the same.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    You might as well say that death is an “effect” of chopping someone’s head off with a guillotine; that one could potentially chop someone’s head off with a guillotine without intending to kill that person.

    Some of the theologians that ArkansasReactionary refers to make exactly that sort of argument. For example, some “New Natural Law” theorists propose that it is possible to choose to crush a living baby’s skull without intending to kill the baby.

    Here is Christopher Tollefsen citing a journal article by several “New Natural Law” theologians:

    Thus Grisez, Boyle and Finnis have argued that craniotomy, in which a fetus’s head is crushed to facilitate removal from the mother, need not involve an intention to kill the child.[25] The intention rather can be “to change the dimensions of the child’s skull to facilitate removal.”

    I consider this approach to be a reductio ad absurdam of itself.

  • I consider this approach to be a reductio ad absurdam of itself.

    I would consider so too. In the words of Cardinal Arinze (who was discussing the “fundamental option”): They are not even good theologians.

  • Zippy says:

    Decapitation doesn’t involve an intention to kill. Rather, the intention is simply to divide the body into two pieces which accidentally don’t survive in the disconnected state.

  • TomD says:

    It seems people have a hard time distinguishing between “allowing cars on the road will result in innocent deaths” and “allowing bombs to drop will result in innocent deaths” and also switch between “perfect knowledge” and “reasonable knowledge” too; a “do your best but do what you gotta do” kind of morality. It’s also interesting that “slaughter of the innocent” is often argued to be fine, but “rape of the innocent” or even “rape of the non-innocent” is not.

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    The one thing just about everyone wants moral license to do to innocent people, if they think the circumstances call for it, is kill them.

  • No, because the death isn’t an effect of the bomb, it is part of the essence of what it means to detonate a bomb.

    Well no, obviously. If someone miraculously survived inside the certain-death blast range, that wouldn’t mean that the bomb didn’t detonate.

  • Zippy says:

    If someone miraculously survived being shot in the head ten times, that wouldn’t mean that the gun didn’t fire.

    “If I choose this behavior and God performs a miracle” is not a valid principle in moral theology. If a killing behavior fails to kill it is the failure which is an accident. A happy accident is still an accident.

  • “If I choose this behavior and God performs a miracle” is not a valid principle in moral theology.

    It’s not like there aren’t examples either. St. Sebastian was martyred twice, because the first attempt failed to actually kill him.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    The one thing just about everyone wants moral license to do to innocent people, if they think the circumstances call for it, is kill them.

    Well, yeah. “Innocent” is the largest category of people in existence. And have you met people? They’re annoying!

  • I think a review of the meaning of terms would be helpful here:

    The essence of a thing is that without which it cannot be. e.g. if a bomb doesn’t explode then an essential element of detonation is lacking.

    An accident is something which is attached to an essence in fact, but which could be otherwise. e.g. that a given person has a given hair color

    A property or proper accident is a type of accident that follows from the essence, and as a rule accompanies it. e.g. that a person has two legs or that detonating a given bomb kills everyone within X radius

    Tim claimed that the essence of detonating bomb is to kill everyone within a particular radius. This is obviously false. As a consequence any conclusions derived from that claim need to be re-evaluated.

  • Note:

    It is a property of a city or other population center to have innocents present. It is a simple accident for a military installation to have innocents present, even if this is known to be the case.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    Tim claimed that the essence of a bomb is to kill everyone within a particular radius.

    I think you are still stuck in a Cartesian thought-box.

    Try this rephrasing:

    Choosing to kill the person shot is essential to choosing to shoot him in the head ten times.

    Choosing to kill the person decapitated is essential to choosing to cut off his head.

    Choosing to kill the person blown up is essential to choosing to blow him up with a bomb.

  • Zippy says:

    If you don’t like “essential to”, because it leads you to think in unrelated irrelevant physicalist terms, you could substitute “intrinsic to”.

    You aren’t not-choosing-to-kill-him when you choose to decapitate him. Killing him is essential to (intrinsic to) the concrete choice of that particular behavior.

    [Edit: minor comment rewording]

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    It is a property of a city or other population center to have innocents present. It is a simple accident for a military installation to have innocents present, even if this is known to be the case.

    That is just false. Families with children live on military bases all the time.

    But the idea that the children are there accidentally isn’t even relevant, even if stipulated, because the fact that an innocent person is somewhere by accident doesn’t warrant deliberately killing him once you know he is there.

  • But the idea that the children are there accidentally isn’t even relevant, even if stipulated, because the fact that an innocent person is somewhere by accident doesn’t warrant deliberately killing him once you know he is there.

    You’re equivocating with the term deliberately. Do you mean “purposely”, “knowingly”, “knowingly and proximately”, or something else?

  • Zippy says:

    Deliberately means chosen.

  • Zippy says:

    Contrast deliberate choices to accidents or mistakes.

  • Zippy says:

    The choice to blow a victim’s body to pieces with a bomb without killing him is unintelligible: counter-reality. It is in that sense that killing is essential to the choice to blow him up with a bomb.

  • “Chosen” is also equivocal. It can mean anything from “specifically intended” to “a foreseen result of a voluntary action”.

    The choice to blow a victim’s body to pieces with a bomb without killing him is unintelligible: counter-reality. It is in that sense that killing is essential to the choice to blow him up with a bomb.

    OTOH, the choice to detonate a bomb without blowing up a given person is entirely intelligible.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    “Chosen” is also equivocal.

    We can play word games all day long. I’m not using the terms equivocally myself, but you can use them to mean different things yourself in your replies and make a rhetorical pretense that the equivocation is mine.

    But one thing you can’t do is choose to decapitate someone without also choosing to kill him; and word games stop being funny in front of the judgement seat of the Almighty.

    the choice to detonate a bomb without blowing up a given person is entirely intelligible.

    The choice not to blow someone up is obviously a different choice from the choice to blow someone up. (It would entail not actually blowing the person up).

  • I’m not using the terms equivocally myself

    Then specify your meaning.

  • Zippy says:

    Then specify your meaning.

    I have. I’ve written many thousands of words on the subject over a period of many years. Previous experience with you, however, has taught me that once you’ve decided not to grasp a point you will persist in failing to grasp it no matter what I say.

    Why don’t you tell us whether it is possible – in reality, not in a science fiction story or by presuming a miracle of some sort – to choose to decapitate a living human being without choosing to kill him?

  • “The idea seems to be that a person can knowingly choose a behavior without intending that specific behavior.”

    What about hindsight being 20/20, Zippy? Is it possible we did not understand the full capabilities of our weaponry? Being as atomic bombs were somewhat new at the time, could we have not been aware of the full results of our actions? Not saying I believe that, I just know it is far easier to look backwards and see the error of our ways, than it is the heat of the moment with a weapon we’ve never used before.

    I really don’t know how morally responsible people are when they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions? I tend to be a bit of an absolutist, believing we are judged by our actions and results, rather than our more innocent, good intentions. “I’m sorry you didn’t know this would happen,but just the same, all the people are still dead.”

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Folks are always playing this mind game, where the entirely subjective, interior theatre of intention is all that matters. Modernity has entirely lost what it means to intend something in the first place. Wishing that circumstances were otherwise doesn’t negate the reality we actually have to operate in. Wishing a better choice had been available to you doesn’t negate the choice you actually made. You cannot voluntarily act without intending the action you perform.

    In a way, that’s the entire goal of modern and post-modern philosophy. It tries to bend reality to our own will, rather than conform our wills to reality.

    Say that a terrorist or a madman or what have you tells you a story about how you have to shoot an innocent man in the head, or he’ll shoot ten innocent people in the head.

    Can you shoot that one innocent man in the head, and then claim that you didn’t specifically intend to shoot him in the head? That you didn’t choose to shoot him in the head? That shooting him in the head was merely a foreseen result, somehow distinct from the behaviour you actually chose?

    Say that a moral consequentialist tells you a story about the death toll of a land invasion.

    Can you blow up a city full of innocent people, and then claim that you didn’t specifically intend to blow up innocent people? That you didn’t choose to blow them up? That blowing them up was merely a foreseen result, somehow distinct from the behaviour you actually chose?

  • Zippy says:

    insanitybytes22:

    The notion that they didn’t understand that the bombs would kill innocent people on the ground doesn’t pass the laugh test. But Veritatis Splendour gives an answer to your more general question:

    It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

  • I’ve written many thousands of words on the subject over a period of many years.

    Summarize then.

    Why don’t you tell us whether it is possible – in reality, not in a science fiction story or by presuming a miracle of some sort – to choose to decapitate a living human being without choosing to kill him?

    Well no, obviously. There’s an inherent connection between a person’s head being connected to their body and their life, which is not present between the bombing of a particular place and the death of a person who happens to be there.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    Summarize then.

    Only after you stand on your head and wear a clown nose.

    Well no, obviously. There’s an inherent connection between a person’s head being connected to their body and their life…

    Good. We’ve established that certain chosen behaviors are, qua behavior, essentially killing behaviors.

    Blowing someone’s body into a thousand pieces is, much like separating it into just two pieces, an essentially killing choice of behavior.

  • William Luse says:

    OTOH, the choice to detonate a bomb without blowing up a given person is entirely intelligible.

    Of course it is, because the actual choice was to blow up *every* given person within the fatal blast radius.

    OTOH, it’s all so equivocal. The difference between intending and choosing, between accidental and on purpose, is lost in an impenetrable fog of ambiguity. I used to think the truth is out there, but now I can stop worrying and forget the bomb:

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    As the post title suggests, there is something about bombs that makes people lose their minds; that pseudo-sacralizes an obviously deliberate choice to kill a whole group of people and turns it into a choice to kill just some of them, or maybe not any of them, even though they all just happen to be dead after the deliberate bombing.

  • Rhetocrates says:

    One way it might be okay to drop bombs to decimate a city and therefore deprive the enemy of its economic production might be to universally publish (to the point of dropping pamphlets first) that you intend to bomb it at such-and-such a time, and will all people not proximately involved in the war effort please leave?

    Except, of course, in reality even that doesn’t work; even if the enemy isn’t dastardly enough to keep his own people in the city in an effort to dissuade the bombing, you know as a practical judgment about human nature that there will be some people who disregard the warning and stay put.

    However, in case it matters, the man responsible for the original idea and plan of massive bombing in an effort to deprive the enemy of resources, Captain B. H. Liddel-Hart, later came to believe (and make persuasive arguments) that it was a bad idea, not just morally, but even in terms of winning the war because its long-term effects on keeping the peace afterward. So even die-hard consequentialists should be against the firebombing of Dresden, the nuclear annihilation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, etc.

  • Well no, obviously. There’s an inherent connection between a person’s head being connected to their body and their life, which is not present between the bombing of a particular place and the death of a person who happens to be there.

    Well no, obviously. There’s an inherent connection between a person’s head being connected to their body and their life, which is not present between the release of a guillotine blade in a particular place and the death of a person who happens to be there.

  • William Luse says:

    Bombs are sacred because the alternative is intolerable. Remember who said this?

    It is said that war admittedly produces a number of evil effects, including attacks on civilians, but that these must be balanced against the probable good effects…and if they are outweighed by good, then they can be discounted. It is indeed true that such a balance must be made; but we cannot propose to sin, because that evil will be outweighed by the good effects…That would be to commit sin that good might come; and we may not commit any sin, however small, for the sake of any good, however great, and if the choice lies between our total destruction and the commission of sin, then we must choose to be destroyed.

    I wonder if Deacon (Double-Effect) Russell would have found that post helpful. Probably not.

  • Well no, obviously. There’s an inherent connection between a person’s head being connected to their body and their life, which is not present between the release of a guillotine blade in a particular place and the death of a person who happens to be there.

    Releasing a guillotine isn’t intrinsically evil either. The pertinent difference though, would be that (barring some absurd hypothetical) releasing a guillotine won’t have any substantial effects other than the harm it inflicts on the person below it, whereas a bomb frequently does produce both good and bad effects directly.

  • “Releasing a guillotine isn’t intrinsically evil either. The pertinent difference though, would be that (barring some absurd hypothetical) releasing a guillotine won’t have any substantial effects other than the harm it inflicts on the person below it, whereas a bomb frequently does produce both good and bad effects directly”

    Okay, I’m now running back to my safe place where nobody believes in recreational, harmless guillotine dropping and the potential “goodness” of bombs. I’ll just be in my coloring fort enjoying the pink forest.

  • Releasing a guillotine isn’t intrinsically evil either. The pertinent difference though, would be that (barring some absurd hypothetical) releasing a guillotine won’t have any substantial effects other than the harm it inflicts on the person below it, whereas a bomb frequently does produce both good and bad effects directly.

    Can you deliberately release a guillotine knowing that someone’s head is on the chopping block and not intend to kill them? If not, what is it that makes killing people with bombs different than killing them with a guillotine?

  • TomD says:

    The “good or bad” effects of the bomb are completely besides the point! The “good” effects of any human activity will never outweigh the Good effects of nailing Christ to the Cross – but in no way was that justified!

  • Step2 says:

    Bill and Zippy,
    Bombs are sacred because the alternative is intolerable.

    The alternatives are usually worse – although rarely intolerable – often for both sides not merely the side using the bombs. Especially after a long, brutal conflict like WW2 patience runs short and the public is usually in a war fever of grief and rage that is desensitized to wholesale destruction by that point. So it seems better to understand and recognize those temptations, which are made worse by today’s instant gratification technology and culture, instead of assuming what I hope is a rhetorical overstatement that they actually want to kill innocent people given the right circumstances.

  • Can you deliberately release a guillotine knowing that someone’s head is on the chopping block and not intend to kill them?

    Not unless there is some other direct effect of the guillotine separate from the harm done to the person under it.

  • Zippy says:

    TimFinnegan:

    Can you deliberately release a guillotine knowing that someone’s head is on the chopping block and not intend to kill them? If not, what is it that makes killing people with bombs different than killing them with a guillotine?

    His answer is just going to be the usual: the “deaths” are “effects” under a physicalist understanding of human acts. Behaviors cannot be objectively understood as anything other than the production of “effects” which can be subjected to double effect. All that matters morally is subjective factors.

  • Wood says:

    Step2,

    So it seems better to understand and recognize those temptations, which are made worse by today’s instant gratification technology and culture, instead of assuming what I hope is a rhetorical overstatement that they actually want to kill innocent people given the right circumstances

    I live in Babylon and work in health care, and I can assure you people very VERY strongly desire to kill innocent people. Temptations and context are important to understand from an apologetic standpoint I guess – most people think they are killing something like crab grass, rather than a person – but honestly from my perspective people need to be awoken from their “life can be a bummer so I should be able to kill people” slumbers.

  • Zippy says:

    Ah, and there he is confirming it. There is nothing morally essential, objectively speaking, about kinds of behavior like choosing to guillotine an individual or choosing to kill a group of people with a bomb. Human acts are a synthesis of the purely subjective plus accidental physical “effects”.

    Condomistic sex isn’t an immoral species of behavior, always illicit to choose. Morality always depends on good intentions combined with a weighing of “effects”.

    This is exactly the dualistic subjectivist mind trap which Veritatis Splendour condemns.

  • Zippy says:

    There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behaviour, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the “premoral” or “physical” goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behaviour.

  • Condomistic sex isn’t an immoral species of behavior, always illicit to choose. Morality always depends on good intentions combined with a weighing of “effects”.

    It’s not really adultery if a millionaire pays your wife to sleep with him you know; the money will be good for the family.

  • Zippy says:

    I think the indiscriminate nature of using bombs to kill makes thinking about bombing behaviors especially susceptible to the error St. John Paul II points out here:

    This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act.

    I expect that many people who might not fall for the error when it comes to other kinds of behavior will still fall for it when it comes to killing with bombs. ArkansasReactionary is obviously thinking about these behaviors as a mere physical process (“effects”).

  • Wood says:

    Zippy,

    I expect that many people who might not fall for the error when it comes to other kinds of behavior will still fall for it when it comes to killing with bombs.

    I also wonder – maybe off topic – if it exposes “our” susceptibilities to the Americanist heresy. That we are somehow so special (they hate us for our freedoms) that our evil acts are somehow really REALLY necessary.

  • That causing the deaths of people within a certain distance is necessarily part of the object of detonating a bomb is precisely what I’m disputing. Calumniating me and suggesting that I don’t believe the Church’s teachings on contraception or what have you is not an argument.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    I’d be surprised if everyone did not understand quite clearly that you believe that it is possible to choose to blow someone to bits with a bomb without intending to kill him.

  • Zippy says:

    Also, the point is — as St John Paul II teaches — that the sort of moral reasoning you are employing leads to rejecting Church teaching on other intrinsic evils. Ideas have consequences.

  • Zippy says:

    Suppose a baby is in a carriage right next to a 20 kiloton nuclear bomb. Is killing that baby something that you are choosing when you choose to detonate the bomb?

  • I’d be surprised if everyone did not understand quite clearly that you believe that it is possible to choose to blow someone to bits with a bomb without intending to kill him.

    This is a blatant mischaracterization of my position.

    What I’m disputing is that choosing “detonate a bomb” as the object of one’s action equates to choosing “kill X particular person near it” as the object of one’s action.

  • Zippy says:

    Answer the question.

    Suppose a baby is in a carriage right next to a 20 kiloton nuclear bomb. Is killing that baby something that you are choosing when you choose to detonate the bomb?

  • That depends? What are you trying to destroy with the bomb?

  • TomD says:

    What if you just want to see the nice pretty cloud and lights?

    All three aspects must be good — the objective act, the subjective intention, and the circumstances — in order to have a morally good act.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “you under the impression that blatantly mischaracterizing other peoples’ positions is somehow helpful to your rhetoric?”

    What part of your definition am I missing?

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    “Proximate”, among others. Plus we probably don’t share the same definition of “definition”.

  • What if you just want to see the nice pretty cloud and lights?

    Obviously that couldn’t possibly justify causing the death of a human being.

  • Zippy says:

    But are you choosing to kill the baby?

  • That would not be the object of the act in that case.

  • Zippy says:

    So you aren’t choosing to kill the baby?

  • Killing the baby is not part of the object of the act.

    You would need to say precisely what you mean by “choose”.

  • William Luse says:

    Step2, I do recognize the temptations, to which I might even yield if put to the test. But my concern here is with what is true, that it might steel me against the yielding.
    I was going to ask you what I had said that would lead you to think I was charging anyone with wanting “to kill innocent people given the right circumstances.” But on second thought, I do believe that there is large cohort that wishes to reserve the right to kill innocents if they find the alternative to not doing so more than they can bear. (I’m thinking not only of the bomb, but of a much larger moral territory). This is accomplished by withdrawing from these people their rightful claim to “innocence,” which is in turn accomplished by employing rationalizations you’ve seen on display in this very thread.

  • Mike T says:

    That depends? What are you trying to destroy with the bomb?

    If Harris and Klebold had gone to Columbine with the “intention” of emptying as much ammunition into the walls of the school and did not “intend” to empty a bunch of them into classmates, would it matter?

  • ArkansasReactionary:

    This was you just last week:

    If Crisis is holding a heterodoxy contest, it would seem that Dc. Toner is winning by a wide mile. Dc. Russel hid behind weaponized ambiguity, but this new article isn’t even bothering to avoid heresy. It boldly proclaims that the Church’s condemnation of consequentialism is wrong, and that the defenders of Catholic doctrine are pharisees (where have we heard that before).

    It should be clear at this point that Crisis is not an orthodox magazine. If it were, it would never have allowed an article defending a condemned heresy to be published.

    Do you realize that your “blowing people up isn’t a choice to kill them” idea is exactly the reasoning used by the two Deacons in those Crisis articles to claim that the act itself was not intrinsically immoral and therefore was a matter left up to prudential judgment?

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    I suppose if Harris and Klebold “intended” realistic target practice rather than killing then a NNL-type theologian (which is really just the zombie of proportionalism) would argue that they weren’t choosing to kill, but they were guilty nonetheless because of gross disregard for human life. Under proportionalism every moral evaluation is based on a kind of theoretical proportion between intended good effects and unintended bad effects.

    Proportionalism is basically the principle of double-effect (as commonly understood) with any acknowledgment of intrinsically immoral kinds of behavior removed.

  • TomD says:

    Proportionalism also has the strange side-effect of having to calculate the intended good effects vs the actual good effects; if H&K had intended to simply shoot lots of bullets and “raise awareness” of bullying and also ending hunger, who are we to judge them just because that didn’t work out the way they intended?

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    … who are we to judge them just because that didn’t work out the way they intended?

    Someone inclined to take the position seriously would likely frame it as them “having no choice”. This was the only option available for them to decisively accomplish their good intention. There had been lots of anti-bullying awareness-raising to no effect. There are many suicides because of bullying, so their actions saved lives. They didn’t intend the “deaths” and other bad “effects” — understood as premoral or merely physical occurrences in the manner JPII describes in VS in his condemnation of this pattern of thought. There was no other way for them to achieve the good they hoped to accomplish. They did not want anyone innocent to die as something for its own sake, and their anti-bullying message could have gotten through even if by a miracle everyone had survived. And who is really “innocent”, anyway?

  • […] inclined to take the position seriously would likely frame it as Harris and Klebold “having no […]

  • josh says:

    Hitler and a baby are tied together to the trolley tracks…

  • At this point you’ve devolved into nonsense. Whatever the Columbine shooters were trying to do, they accomplished (or tried to accomplish it) by means of killing people. The atomic bombings ended the war by killing innocent people. Someone dropping a bomb on a military position at which innocents are being held hostage isn’t using their deaths as a means to his end.

    It isn’t very complicated.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    At this point you’ve devolved into nonsense.

    We have, but that is only because you hold to the manifest nonsense that it is possible to choose to blow a person’s living body to pieces using a bomb without intending to kill him.

    The issue isn’t whether there is nonsense in this discussion. The issue is its source.

  • you hold to the manifest nonsense that it is possible to choose to blow a person’s living body to pieces using a bomb without intending to kill him

    This is a strawman which I have repeatedly corrected. Why are you still arguing with it?

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    This is a strawman which I have repeatedly corrected.

    No it isn’t. Your defense consists of an affected Clintonian “that all depends on what meaning you choose for the word ‘choose'”.

  • Zippy says:

    Choice is not a great ineffable mystery which can only be understood by deep thinkers. We all grasp what it means to choose a behavior; we do it constantly, every waking minute. Pretenses otherwise, in manifest cases like the ones we are discussing here, are ridiculous sophistry.

    Choosing to detonate a 20 kiloton bomb right next to a living infant is, by the nature of that chosen behavior, a choice to kill that particular infant in that particular moment. Other circumstances or intentions don’t make it not a choice to kill that particular infant.

    Choosing to issue driver’s licenses is not, by the nature of that chosen behavior, a choice to kill drivers and passengers. The fact that the issuer expects accidents to happen doesn’t mean that he is choosing to kill the people who die in them. Particular accidents which inevitably occur are not chosen.

    This is a distinction that young children grasp readily, and adults work very hard to obfuscate.

  • TomD says:

    Now I’ve another question – is the development of weapons that can not be morally used itself immoral?

    Now of course any device could be used morally (nuke the moon or something) – but specifically the creation and buildout of MAD-type nuclear weapons which have the main purpose or preventing others from using their similar weapons – could that be legitimate?

    In other words, assume that a nuke is so big it cannot help but kill innocents, and so use thereof would be entirely immoral. Is the development of said nuke to use a threat to do what you will never do objectively immoral? A near occasion of sin, because the deterrent won’t work unless it would actually be possible to press the button?

    If the nuke example doesn’t do it for people, what about an abortion machine?

  • Robert Brockman says:

    If I recall correctly, when Strategic Air Command was disestablished their leadership announced with considerable pleasure that they had successfully completed their mission without killing anyone.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Zippy: “Choosing to issue driver’s licenses is not, by the nature of that chosen behavior, a choice to kill drivers and passengers. The fact that the issuer expects accidents to happen doesn’t mean that he is choosing to kill the people who die in them. Particular accidents which inevitably occur are not chosen.”

    This logic is dangerous.

    Stalin / Mao: “Choosing to collectivize farming is not, by the nature of that chosen behavior, a choice to kill large numbers of peasants. The fact that the administrators expect millions of people to starve doesn’t mean that they kill the people who die in the ensuing famine. Particular accidents which inevitably occur are not chosen.”

    I’m going to pull a rare Chomsky move and claim that *you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions* — including inaction.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    Okay, l’m going to refine on the munitions factory example in a way that will hopefully bring more clarity to the situation:

    Imagine there’s an apartment complex in Pakistan in which Osama bin Laden is living. Everyone knows that the US is at war with OBL and his friends, and that the US has good reason to reduce OBL to ash. However OBL is living in Apt. 666 in disguise — the Neighbor of the Beast in Apt. 668 did not choose to live next door to OBL, they chose to live next door to some guy with a beard.

    You would say that the USAF flattening the apartment complex with a Mk. 84 is Bad(TM) because the guy in 668 is not a combatant.

    The USAF would respond with, “Every week we let OBL live he predictably blows up more people. We can bomb him today and kill a few non-combatants, or we could wait and allow more non-combatants to die at OBL’s hands.” Presumably you would then say that people OBL kills get billed to OBL’s soul, but the death of the guy in 668 is on the USAF.

    Now suppose the guy in 668 *finds out* about OBL in 666. Now he gets to make a choice to move or not. If he doesn’t move (for whatever reason), is he now a combatant in the form of a voluntary human shield? It seems more reasonable for the USAF to waste the guy in 668 in this case. The children in 668 are another matter, they are too young to understand about OBL, etc. so they aren’t making choices.

    If OBL’s maid service happens to be vacuuming in 666 when the bomb hits, that’s an *accident* — the USAF thought the cleaning lady wasn’t supposed to come in until Thursday.

  • Robert Brockman says:

    One thing that we can all take from this discussion is that it would be better for everyone if modern militaries like the US spent a lot more resources on espionage and wet work and a lot fewer resources on area-effect weapons.

    Imagine a scenario in which Russia or China declared war on the US and then all of their military and political leadership died the next week in a series of unrelated accidents. This would be a victory for (almost) everyone, especially compared to WWIII.

  • If he doesn’t move (for whatever reason), is he now a combatant in the form of a voluntary human shield?

    One would need to justify the claim that he has a grave moral obligation to move.

  • Zippy says:

    Robert Brockman:

    I’m going to pull a rare Chomsky move and claim that *you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions* — including inaction.

    This is true but not simply true. One must never under any circumstances choose an intrinsically immoral behavior. One must never under any circumstances formally cooperate with evil. But material cooperation with evil is often unavoidable, and can sometimes be justified.

    (This is Catholic moral theology 101).

    On the other hand, the fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandments. The reason is this: the commandment of love of God and neighbour does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken. Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil. — Veritatis Splendour

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    Is the development of said nuke to use a threat to do what you will never do objectively immoral?

    I answer that “what you will never do” can be understood in two ways.

    In one way it is through the negative prohibitions of the moral law, which tell us kinds of behavior which are never a morally acceptable object of choice.

    In another way it assumes that we have imagined all possible future circumstances. It is in this way that it applies to the development of a technology, unless some action involved in the development of the technology is itself intrinsically immoral.

    But we do not have the ability to imagine all possible future circumstances. Therefore the development of a technology is not intrinsically immoral unless the development itself involves choosing intrinsically immoral behaviors (e.g. embryonic stem cell research).

    A near occasion of sin, because the deterrent won’t work unless it would actually be possible to press the button?

    Probably that, yes. But the choice to develop the technology would nonetheless fall under double effect / prudential judgment and may be at least theoretically warranted by circumstances.

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