Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"The Lord of Armies is With Us"


A little Psalm 45 reference for you all on this delightful May afternoon. I believe I mentioned earlier that I wrote a paper for my Military Ethics (PHIL 315) final exam. I have taken the liberty of providing the outline I made for it prior to the test. Since we were allowed to bring in notes on a certain amount of paper, the outline is more or less the paper itself. Sadly, the actual paper written is not here, since my prof. won't be giving it back to us. Perhaps later I will re-write the essay, but for now, the notes.

Backround: In June of 1944, the U.S. Government considered bombing the concentration camps in Germany, Auschwitz and Birkenau in particular. We were given several documents and memos, and asked to analyze the morality of the situation. My response:

1) (first assertion) One key aspect of the rules on engagement known as jus in bello is the discrimination of targets. That is, a requirement to distinguish when fighting between soldiers and non-combatants. The formerare valid military targets, the latter are not.

2) (follow up) It seems highly doubtful that such discretion is being sought, since they are discussing the "feasability of a througouh destruction" of the camps.

3) (opposing argument, quote from memo) "Presumably, a large number of Jews in these camps my be killed in the course of such bombings...[but] such Jews are doomed to death anyhow."

4) (response) Simply because an aggressor intends to commit an atrocity does not give you the right to commit the same atrocity. In a war where at least part of your motive is to prevent the spread of an evil ideology, you give the enemy moral victory by commiting his crimes for him.

5) Furthermore, attacking "as a matter of principle", to provide "evidence of the indignation aroused" of what the Nazis are doing by doing so in turn is self-defeating.

6) (counter-argument) However, the Nazis are murdering the Jews deliberately and systematically out of no motivation but hatred and eugenics. The Allied forces, on the other hand, do not actively desire to see the Jews killed, but do so as a regrettable side-effect of the bombing raid. Were there no prisoners in the camps, Allied fores would still have a desire to destoy them. The principle of double effect, therefore, permits this unfortunate but uncontrollable occurance.

7) (reply to this counter-argument) In his section on double effect, Mr. [Michael] Walzer, [in his book Just and Unjust Wars] examines a unit in the Korean War who fired randomly into the brush in the hopes of killing the enemy forces there. They did not actively desire to kill civillians, but this desire alone would not have justified the soldiers in the event of civillian casualties.

8) (quote from the section) "The intention of the actor is good, that is, he aims narrowly at the acceptable effect; the evil effect is not one of his ends, nor is it a means to his ends, and, aware of the evil involved, he seeks to minimize it, accepting costs to himself.

9) An active attempt to minimize civillian casualties must be undertaken, something more substantial than "we don't want to do it, but its the cost of doing buisness." Such an attitude is degrading to human dignity on the whole, and would severely violate Kant's principle treating the human being as an "end-in-itself". Given how they are speaking of "thourough destruction", it does not sound like they intend to leave even buildings such as infirmaries and prisoners barracks up. Such carelessness violates non-combatant immunity, since even though they don't actively violate the priniple, neither do they act to respect it.

10) Neo-Thomist Fr. John Ryan said [in his essay "Modern War and Basic Ethics"] that "when an entire city is destroyed [...] the military objections are destroyed indirectly and incidentally as part of a great civil centre, rather than vice-versa." The allies are not just targeting the military barracks, or the crematorium, or the gas chambers, but all of Auschwitz, which includes the Jews living there. Such an attack would then be outright murder.

11) (Introduction to second assertion) St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologae, wrote that "If a man, in self-defense, uses more force than is necessary, it will be unlawful." (II-II:lxiv:7)

12) (second assertion) Because violence, even in war, is to be avoided, unecessary use is immoral. Any attacks in combat which are not tactically necessary are therefore immoral.

13) The language of the memo does not indicate that tactical considerations are the first prority. No strategic vitality is suggested, and the very notion that this has strategic value is not mentioned until the end, almost as an afterthought.

14) Even if the value was there, there is an obvious lack of intent. Because the primary intent is not attacking a vital area, but expressing moral outrage, an argument from tactical considerations would be dubious at best, and deceitful at worst.

15) (additional argument in favor of bombing, quoted from memo) "Some saving of lives would therefore be a most likely result."

16) (reply to the argument) Such a utilitarian calculus can only be employed an an absolute necessity, which does not exist. For human rights to be disregarded optionally or voluntarily implies that they can be ignored at will, which seems to contradict the whole notion of what a "right" is.

17) Mr. Walzer argues: "Whenever that conflict [between winning and fighting well] is absent, [utilitarian] calculation is stopped short by the rules of war and the rights they are designed to protect."

18) Even if the calculus could be used, it is idiotic to think that the Jews saved would live for long. Some would die from the elements, others from wounds gotten during the raid, others re-captured, still others shot on sight by the S.S. troops who survive the raid. One thing is certain: no tattooed, branded Jew is going to survive long in the middle of Nazi-occupied Poland.

19) Given that it would be unjustly harming the detainees in the camp, that no serious tactical value lies in attacking the camp, and that even if utilitarian calculi could be considered, little good would come, such a raid is immoral and tantamount to a war crime.


I toned down the rhetoric a bit, expanded on point two (no. 12), rather than just letting St. Thomas argue for me, and explained in greater detail why a utilitarian view could be taken in absolute necessity, and what that means (pretty much just when you are going to kill someone no matter what you do), but pretty much that's the paper. Looking back, I think it does deserve to be re-written. And so I'm off...

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloram+

"One reason why I don't drink is that I want to know when I'm having a good time."
-Nancy Astor


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