Friday, August 07, 2015

War as Terrorism: The Moral Calculus

This week is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan by the United States.

Most Americans still feel the bombings were justified.

Probably the majority of the Japanese people who were killed, if given a choice, would have preferred surrender vs. a continuation of the war.

But these innocent non-combatant civilians were not the decision-makers.

They were pawns.

Terrorism is widely defined as "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes" and "a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government."

The bombing of Japan -- not just the atomic bombing, but the sustained conventional (and probably more lethal) bombing that preceded it -- was an act of terrorism. It was "violence for political purposes."

In 1998, Osama bin Laden issued a "fatwah" against the United States in opposition to (1) U.S. Bombing of Muslims in the middle east (2) U.S. military bases on Muslim holy land (3) U.S. support of Israel's anti-Palestinian policies. 9/11 was an act of violence intended to intimidate and force change of these political policies.

The bombing of Japan was a protracted act of terrorism -- violence intended to change the political policies of the Japanese government. It was perhaps 750 9/11's inflicted on Japan.

Conservative, patriotic Americans will object to U.S. policy being equated with Al-Qaeda policy. But the objection is not based on morality. It is based on patriotism, which is a non-rational allegiance to a particular political regime. They are morally equivalent.

To say that Japan and the United States are moral equivalents will offend some. Japan was evil. We are good. Japan was aggressive and invading China. U.S. sanctions against Iraq were two or three times more lethal than Hiroshima, but Clinton's Secretary of State would say the deaths of half a million children were "worth it." That is, "moral."

Let's do some moral calculations.

I have used this illustration in my discussions of allegiance and the oath of office: Suppose the government requires your parents to get a blood test, and based on the medical data obtained from the test, the government concludes that your parents are genetically likely to experience certain end-of-life medical conditions which will be very costly to treat. In order to protect the fiscal solvency of the Medicare and Social Security systems, the government orders you to put your parents to sleep. That means kill them. Would you obey the government's order? It could save the government over a million dollars, and any life insurance company would agree that your parents don't have a million dollars of life value left in them.

I wouldn't obey the government. The Bible says "Honor your father and mother" and "Thou shalt not kill." According to the Supreme Court, putting God ahead of the government in this way renders you ineligible to hold any public office because of your lack of allegiance, patriotism, or loyalty.

It is immoral to take the life of a human being based on this kind of political calculation. Can we agree on that?

How about another illustration.

You receive a letter from the government ordering you to get your affairs together and report to the local hospital. There are five people waiting for you at the hospital. Each of these people has a life-threatening need for your vital organs. By sacrificing your heart, lungs, liver, and a couple of other organs, you will save the lives of five people.

Does the government have the moral right to take your life based on this calculation? One life saves five! What a deal!

If you voluntarily chose to do that, an argument about the morality of suicide would ensue. I'm talking about a government making the choice for you, without or against your consent.

Does the government have the right to take your life based on the fact that five lives will be saved?

This week we commemorate the U.S. government's choice to take the lives of 200,000 innocent non-combatant Japanese civilians without their consent in order to save the lives of a million American soldiers. At least that's the most popular patriotic justification for the bombing. "One life saved five."

But those Americans Soldiers weren't going to die of some inevitable natural cause, but were going to die because their government was prepared to order them to die. A million American soldiers who really did not have to invade Japan anyway. As Eisenhower put it, "The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

Not only was it unnecessary to kill 1 Japanese person to save 5 Americans, U.S. policy likely increased human deaths by nearly 100 times. Crushing Japan meant crushing the Japanese government's ability to invade China. This allowed the spread of Communism in China, which ultimately cost the lives of 76 million Chinese people.

Do we really trust politicians to make such God-like calculations? Obama? Bush? Truman? Should one man have the power to kill a human being based on a fiscal cost-benefit analysis? Should a politician have the power to kill a million people based on a geo-political calculation?

Communism was the clear winner of World War II. Communism in China; Communism in Poland and Czechoslovakia. That's what "we" fought for. That's what tens of millions of people died for. Was it "worth it?"

"Thou shalt not kill."

We must allow simple Christian morality to prevail over Harvard-educated patriotism.