Reply to Victor Davis Hanson on Hiroshima

Victor Davis Hanson is very pleased with the decision of the US government to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He replies to Gene Callahan's dissection of his position, e.g.:
Callahan ignores the fact that the bomb ended, not perpetuated "eternal" war, abruptly saving millions of casualties on both sides.

Only unconditional surrender discredited the militarists and thus allowed democracy to emerge -- and with it more than a half century of Japanese prosperity, security, and liberal government.

And in the security of the present he forgets that the allies much earlier had tried a negotiated, rather than unconditional surrender and subsequent occupation of the enemy homeland in 1918 -- and got Hitler and another war later as thanks.

1. To get started, is Hanson familiar with the doctrine of double effect? Roughly, it states that it may be permissible to perform an act with both a good effect and a bad effect, provided that the latter

  1. is outweighed by the good effect;

  2. is a mere side effect; if it is either one's goal or a means to the goal, then the act is forbidden.

Thus, bombing a munitions factory may (though not necessarily) be Ok, even though some civilians may die as an unintended side effect, while deliberately bombing civilians in order to, for example, break a country's will to fight is morally wrong, as it involves doing evil so that "good" may come out of it.

This moral rule prohibited the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to achieve the aims Hanson favors.

2. It is true that the nuclear bombing ended the war; however:

  1. Could the war have been ended in some other, less wicked, way?

  2. Surely, Hanson does not condemn all war negotiations because of the singular event of Hitler's rise to power? (And Hitler is a separate subject altogether.)

  3. How does he know that "dropping the bomb on Hiroshima probably saved millions of lives"? Why not merely thousands of lives? For example, during the entire World War 2 there were around 400,000 American deaths. If the number of lives allegedly saved is small, then the double effect principle is violated not only in part b) but in part a), as well.

  4. The "eternal" perpetual war refers to the ideology of total war. The rule according to which an armed conflict must end in an unconditional surrender of, in Richard Weaver's words, "a totally depraved opponent" leads inevitably to an endless orgy of murder and destruction.

    The main reason for the non-occurrence up until now of World War 3 has been, other than perhaps the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction between the US and the USSR, precisely a rejection of the ideology of total war. By resurrecting it, Hanson is not doing anyone any favors.

Further, Ludwig von Mises describes the economics of total war as follows:

The wars fought by primitive tribes did not affect cooperation under the division of labor. Such cooperation by and large did not exist between the warring parties before the outbreak of hostilities. These wars were unlimited or total wars. They aimed at total victory and total defeat.

The defeated were either exterminated or expelled from their dwelling places or enslaved.

The idea that a treaty could settle the conflict and make it possible for both parties to live in peaceful neighborly conditions was not present in the minds of the fighters.

Is Hanson defending the ways of primitive tribes? Must the enemy be destroyed utterly for peace to endure?

3. Hanson is not suggesting, I hope, that "more than a half century of Japanese prosperity, security, and liberal government" can compensate those who died in the blasts?

Is he saying that economic benefits to some arbitrary group of people can make up for hundreds of thousands of unjustly murdered? Is living well really the best revenge?

And were demanding an unconditional surrender and nuclear bombing the only ways of instituting liberal government in Japan? Could a less immoral way have been devised? Whatever happened to the power of ideas?

4. Of course, "dropping a bomb on the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army to force a military cabal to surrender" is much worse than "blowing up an office building," because the former killed a lot more innocent people than the latter, precisely as a means to forcing an unconditional surrender!

5. Finally, it does not in fact make a "difference who starts wars, much less whether they are fought by fascists or democracies" with regard to the just way of waging wars. Bombing innocent people is wicked regardless of whether "their" government started the war or committed atrocities elsewhere. This is because there is a difference between jus ad bellum and jus in bello that our author overlooks.

Hanson ought to reconsider his collectivism.

August 30, 2005

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