Advanced Search

If Hitler in 1941 had the right to send vast numbers of German men to their

War
If Hitler in 1941 had the right to send vast numbers of German men to their deaths in Russia and to cause there the deaths of vast numbers of Russians, did he not also have the right to send to their deaths vast numbers of German Jews, whom he viewed as Germany's enemies?

There are, of course, differences between the two cases. The Soviets did at least have some opportunity to defend themselves, for instance. On the other hand, vastly more of them died. So let's just put all such differences to one side, and suppose that the two cases are indeed equivalent. Okay then, if Hitler had the right to invade the USSR, then he had the right to slaughter the German Jews. But so what? The antecedent of the conditional is plainly false. Why on earth would anyone think he had the right to invade the USSR?

Is it ethical for the civilized nations of the world to research weapons of mass

Is it ethical for the civilized nations of the world to research weapons of mass destruction [chemical and biological] for the purposes of warfare? Both Russia and America have stockpiles of small pox a deadly virus that could do considerable damage to humanity. Is it ethical to keep said stockpiles as a precaution, as a counter measure to terrorists and warlike nations? Is it ethical to keep up a chemical and biological arms race through research and weapons development? I find myself wondering how we can fight a war with weapons like Ebola and smallpox. Do you have to become your enemy to defeat them? How far should we go to preserve the West? Are some things not worth the loss of moral standing? Do those that serve and protect our nation states really have to go that far and is it worth it? My concern likely echoes the dilemmas faced by many during World War Two and the question as to whether using nuclear weapons was worth the loss of humanity; either the lives lost or the abstract ideal of...

From an ethical standpoint, the research and development of weapons of mass destruction is justifiable only by appeal to the deterrent effect possession of such weapons has. When a country has weapons of mass destruction, others are deterred from using force against that county. There is a significant catch, though: in order to attain the desired deterrent effect, other countries have to believe that the country who possesses the weapons will, in fact, use them if provoked. And this is where the logic of deterrence gets sketchy: ethical considerations of the efficacy of deterrence support the having of weapons, yet in order to serve as deterrents, a country has to be prepared to use them. Those very same ethical considerations, however, may not support the actual use of weapons of mass destruction.

These considerations do not directly respond to one of your central concerns, which is whether or not the use of weapons of mass destruction is justifiable. Yet I do hope to have raised some doubts about inferring the fact that a country is willing to use weapons from the fact that they are researching and developing them. It could be ethical to research and develop them, and yet, at the same time, not be ethical to use them.

How can politicians across the globe get away with saying that they support a

War
How can politicians across the globe get away with saying that they support a 'War on Terror'? How can terrorism possibly be something that can be defeated? We don't try to preemptively stop violent offenders in the developed nations, so why are 'terrorists' people that can be so easily branded and fought against?

I believe that the meaning of the expression "war on terror" contains a metaphor and a judgment, neither of which is explicitly presented as such. This double equivocation has grave political consequences. Let me address each fold of the equivocation separately.

The Metaphor of "War."

I do not see how, in the "war against terror," "war" is used as anything else than a metaphor, as in the "war against cancer" or the "war against drug-trafficking." In principle, there would be nothing wrong in making use of the metaphor of war to describe the fight against terrorism, and the terror that it produces. Now, given that acts of terrorism are so destabilizing precisely because of their intrinsic production of terror (an individual and collective state of mind), I am not sure that the metaphor of war would be my pick, since it is obvious that it increases, rather than decreases, the production of terror.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, however, by formally "declaring" war on terror, the Bush administration equivocated on the status of the term "war." All of a sudden, the United States was at war , engaged in an actual armed conflict against the terrorists. This has allowed the Bush administration several very problematic moves:

  1. to ask countries around the world to either align themselves with or against the US;
  2. to suggest that whoever was "with us" was good and whoever was "against us" was evil;
  3. to infuse secular democratic discourse with theological sentiments;
  4. to accuse critical voices within the US of betrayal and anti-patriotism -- a vicious accusation that has silenced any form of dissent, including most of the liberal media until the war in Iraq began to lose steam. A recent example of this slippery slope is Sarah Palin's statement about the pro-American versus anti-American, states of the Uniion.

In my view, the equivocation on the status of the term "war" in the expression "war on terror" is not a simple rhetorical twist but a deliberate attempt to change the substance of political discourse, whose effects are still present today. Look at the responses given uniformly by the media as well as by the Obama campaign against the "accusation" that Senator Obama is a Muslim, or that he is deliberately concealing his Muslim background. In unison, these responses simply disputed the "allegation" on factual grounds. Senator Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim, and he is not concealing his Muslim background. How did the American public not take the accusation as offensive in terms of the demonization of Islam? How is it that in the oldest liberal democracy in the world religious discrimination still reigns sovreign? The truth is taht no candidate or media can afford this line of response yet. And this limitation of freedom of expression is, I believe, a consequence of the last 8 years of equivocation on our being really at war against an elusive enemy.

"Terrorism" as a Judgment

Declaring war against terror implies that the fight against it can be won or lost. In my opinion, the promise to eradicate terror rests on the wrong assumption that "terrorism" is a referring expression, which is to say, the fitting description for a specific type of violent act, carried out by a new military enemy, an enemy that can and should be beaten on the battlefield. By contrast, in my scholarly work I have claimed that terrorism is not a description but a judgment. In this case, it is important to underline that judgments may be offered not only by individuals, but also by institutions, government agencies, the media apparatus as well as the political elite in charge of major policy decisions.

You might argue that I am conflating terrorism and terror here, and that the war that the United States has declared is against terror rather than terrorism. My answer to your remark would be that in the past 8 years these two terms have indeed been used interchangeably. In my view, this interchangeability is another deliberate and dangerous equivocation that has allowed the Bush administration to obscure that terrorism is in fact a judgment, which, as all judgments, need justification pronouncing them. My point is that the Bush administration’s decision to declare “war on terror” is essential in establishing terrorism as a referring expression. The specificity of a terrorist act is to deliver terror, which is conceived as the essence to which the multiple and varied forms of terrorism can be reduced. In Platonic language: terror is the absolute essence and terrorism is the particular embodiment of terror. This way of thinking about terror and terrorism obscures the fact that terrorism has had a long history and assumed, throughout it, very different forms: think about the difference between the targeted killings of the Red Brigades in Italy, in the 1970s and 1980s, and the mass murder of 9/11, which closely resembles, although not in scale, the fascist attacks against railway stations and banks that accompanied the history of Italian terrorism during those same years.

Declaring war against "Terror" (which was more often that not capitalized in the earlier years of the millennium) erases the need to distinguish between the specificity of the context in which terrorist act is committed and the ideological brands that each one of them has embraced. It is a legitmate to debate whether, in very specific circumstances, a terrorist act may be acceptable in the liberation from liberation from an unjust oppressor.

In contrast with the reduction of terror to an essence (I call it the essentialization of terror), I see terrorism as a judgment for which, whoever pronounces it, has to provide a justification. Today’s mainstream conception of terrorism is the very specific product of a very specific political culture that bears the responsibility of having formulated it and constructed it as a "fact" of sorts, independent from language and circumstances. This is why I call this political culture the culture of terrorism.

All my points seem to me a way of articulating more fully what remains implicit in your question when you ask: "We don't try to preemptively stop violentoffenders in the developed nations, so why are 'terrorists' people thatcan be so easily branded and fought against?"

The declaration of "war on terror" implies that the fight against terror should be conducted by traditional military means, without which the Bush Doctrine of preemption would not make any sense. This doctrine applies only if terrorism is seen as a single recognizable agent (the particular embodiment of a supposed essence, called Terror) whose harmful intentions can be preemptively anticipated and staved off. By following this line of argument, the Bush Doctrine avoids asking the question of who, in fact, is a terrorist. In my opinion, a terrorist is first and foremost a violent offender who claims political motives for her criminal activity. So that the real question becomes: who is in the position of determining whether that claim is justified, and thus to judge whether the violent offense is in fact an act of terrorism? And this is an open question at the intersection between the national and international judicial systems.

Are military drafts unethical or immoral?

Are military drafts unethical or immoral?

Let me begin by saying that I expect my answer to this one will be controversial, as I think there are deep feelings about this issue, and also a very broad range of considerations. So my own response does not rise above simply stating an opinion for others to consider.

For what it is worth, then: I think, as a matter of fact that within democracies military drafts should be mandatory. So, I suppose it is obvious that I think they are neither unethical nor immoral in democracies. I think in systems where the people's consent to government is not given, but simply coerced (the obvious example being dictatorships), then military conscription is almost always immoral, however.

But in democracies, I think that military drafts (universal and with only carefully conceived medical or extraordinary hardship exceptions) should be mandatory. The recent situation in which the United States finds itself gives a fairly clear ground for why I say this. It is simply far too easy for a government or regime to become involved in a war when that decision only puts at risk people who have volunteered for the military. If being in the military were instead a matter of civic duty, then the entire citizenry (including especially the families and friends of conscripts!) will be much less eager to have their countries go to war. As our fiasco in Iraq shows all too well, we should have been much more reluctant, as a nation, to get into this war--but when it was only volunteers whose lives were gone to be lost, well... It was just too easy for the rest of us (many of us with a deep sense of unease nothwithstanding) to sit idly by and just allow our government to make this decision for us. Well, the wrong decision was made, and I think such decisions would be much more difficult to make if more people in this country felt the real risks at stake.

A nation should be prepared to go to war only if and when the case for risking young lives--even those dear to us--is recognized by the majority of the citizens. I think that fewer people would have supported this foolish and reckless war if the stakes included risks to them or to their loved ones, and not just to those who, for whatever reasons--often economic, to be honest, which raises very serious equity questions--volunteered to risk their lives in the military.

The US withdrew from the Vietnam War because that war--another reckless adventure, I believe--put too many conscripts' lives at risk, and the American public finally would not put up with having their loved ones killed or maimed without adequate cause. After that War, our politicians' "wisdom" conceived the all-volunteer army--precisely because that gave them much increased capacity for military engagement without the resistance of the families and loved ones of conscripts. But this resistance is precisely what should be in place to hold in check a too-great readiness to engage in war.

Few thought the draft was immoral during either of the World Wars. That is because there were extremely good reasons to be involved in those wars. But after Vietnam and Iraq, the idea of being conscripted gives us all the creeps. It should give us the creeps! But that same reaction would impede hawkish lawmakers from expensive and deadly wars that do no credit to our country, and waste too many lives (at home and abroad) for poor or selfish reasons.

So it reduces to a simple question: Would we be so willing to vote for a candidate who wished to extend this war "as long as it takes" if it was our own son or daughter who might be the next to die or be terribly injured there? I think not, and if we went back to having the draft, we'd find our current follies ended with alacrity and conviction, and our capacity to make the same mistakes again sharply constrained.

Many Americans maintain that, while they oppose the Iraq War, they nonetheless

War
Many Americans maintain that, while they oppose the Iraq War, they nonetheless "support" the troops wholeheartedly. But is this distinction a mere fantasy? The US has an entirely volunteer army, so why isn't a citizen who joins the military just as guilty for atrocities committed abroad as army or government officials?

Is it possible to oppose the War and yet supportthe troops?If I support the war, that means I believe the ends are justified andgood, themeans are appropriate, and so on. So I believe in the mission, as youmight say. Whatdoes it mean to "support the troops"? It might mean that I writecomforting "lettersfrom home" to people in the services, that I have positive feelingstowards thesoldiers, that I applaud their representatives on the 4th of July, andso on and on. Thesetwo activities are very clearly different and perfectly distinct, asthe support has two different objects, and there is plainly no fantasyhere. The more seriousquestion is whether it is morally permissible to engagein the second activity (supporting the troops) without the first(support for the war), or if we think the war is positively wrong. To put anextreme case: could (a moral "could" here) goodGermanshave supported the Wehrmacht, the regular army, even though they didnotsupport Hitler and the War and its stated aims? And would it have beena good idea? (Or, even moreextremely, should such Germans have written warm supportiveletters to regular Wehrmacht units, but not say to SS army units?) Itseems tome that the answer to this moral question hinges on just how bad thewaris thought to be. Supporting the troops if the war is known to be agreat moral evilis more than fantasy; it is itself wrong. But there is nothing wrongwith supportingthe troops in a war which we know or confidently believe is a justifiedand good one, such as (from the Allied side) theSecond World War. So forAmericans today the question of whether we can or should support thetroops but not thewar depends on just how bad we think the war is. My own view, for whatit is worth, is that the war is very bad (even though it appears to be theresult of incompetence and lack of intelligence rather than of malice),but not quite bad enough tojustify withdrawing our support, if we wish to give it, to people inthe services.

I have an opinion I'd like some feedback on. My view on war is generally that it

War
I have an opinion I'd like some feedback on. My view on war is generally that it's a bad idea. Aggression against another country or similar entity is difficult to justify. However the fact remains that an outside force can invade and make war on your country. My opinion on this is that an invader should be destroyed completely. Ruthless exploitation of any weakness, and use of any weapon is completely justified to expel the threat, at least until they have ceased their aggression and given back any territory gained. After that it would be difficult again to justify continuing the use of ruthless tactics in an act of aggression towards your enemy in their own territory. My idea of using complete force against an aggressor comes from that you didn't make war on them. They brought war to you. For example, if you were being violently mugged, it would be justified to kill your assailant. However, it would be unjustified to go out and kill someone just because they might mug you. Or, if you were mugged and...

I agree with the thought that being the subject of aggression does not necessarily license extremely violent responses like killing, and I would add that pacifists believe there can be--depending on the exact pacifist views being considered--principled and/or pragmatic reasons for refusing to respond to aggression with any form of violence directed toward the aggressor.

So, for example, Gandhi believed that a pointed refusal to respond to aggression with violence against the aggressor could serve to change the behavior and attitudes of the aggressor and of other witnesses to the aggression.

A useful summary of some assessments of pacifism by philosophers is here.

Given the proclivity of animals to fight for both resources and territory as

War
Given the proclivity of animals to fight for both resources and territory as natural competition, is it not possible to justify nearly any war? Even as a "higher order" species, as the population increases so too will competition. How has the idea that the strong shall not take from the meek become reprehensible? Isn't it simply natural?

Where is it written that what is 'natural' is morally acceptable? Unless some argument is offered for this claim, there is a blatant non sequitur in these remarks.

Is it better to fight fairly and risk higher casualties than to fight unfairly

War
Is it better to fight fairly and risk higher casualties than to fight unfairly and thereby reduce casualties? I think many of us have the intuition that war nowadays, despite incurring many fewer casualties than wars past, is much more disturbing for the fact that killing (e.g., by dropping bombs) (1) is so easy and (2) typically does not allow opponents any real self-defense. Is there anything to be said for a fair fight in war, or should our sole moral object be to minimize overall casualties?

First, I would take issue with the claim that war nowadays causes many fewer casualties. While this may be true for soldiers in the armed forces of modern industrial societies, it is clearly not so for the civilian population or even for the soldiers in "third world" nations. The Vietnam War is a good example of what I mean. But if I understand the question, I think "fair fight" is definitely not an ethical requirement, though fighting a "just war" is. To see what I mean by this distinction, consider the ethics of launching a surprise attack. Though in a clear sense this isn't "fighting fair", my view is that if the cause is just and it helps to win the war, of course do it. However, there are moral rules about how to conduct war, and, say, targeting civilians in order to reduce casualties among one's own soldiers is a violation of those rules. As long as one is fighting a just war, and conducting it justly, I don't see that the notion of fighting fair is relevant. After all, war is not a sport.

I am in the part-time military and I may be deployed to active service. Can I

War
I am in the part-time military and I may be deployed to active service. Can I reasonably justify the deaths of any people I am required to kill during operations?

This question cannot be answered in general terms. Some killings that you may be required to perform may be justifiable, others not. Generally, killings in war are thought to be justifiable when two conditions are both fulfilled: Your country must have a just cause for being involved in the war in the first place. And each potentially lethal action within the war must be aimed at a legitimate target while taking great care to spare others who are not a threat. You must reassure yourself on both counts before you start killing people on the orders of others. This can be quite straightforward when you are ordered to defend your country against invading soldiers. But it can be far more difficult, if not impossible, when you are ordered to participate in an attack upon, and occupation of, another country.

Taking the U.S. invasion of Iraq as an example, there is considerable doubt about the first condition. The U.S. sought but failed to obtain UN Security Council authorization. The weapons of mass destruction supposedly held by Saddam Hussein's regime never turned up. There is no evidence for Hussein's alleged collaboration with Al Qaeda. Major human right violations committed by his regime were committed in the 1980's when the U.S. was actively supporting Iraq's war against Iran. Here you need to identify some cause and reassure yourself that it is sufficient to justify the attack on Iraq.

Regarding the second condition, various estimates put the number of Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the U.S. invasion at between 65,000 (Iraq Body Count) and 655,000 (the Lancet). Many were killed by local groups, to be sure, but only because the U.S. -- seeking to keep our troop commitment low -- failed to maintain public order and security. Many more were killed through indiscriminate U.S. bombardment of civilian areas from which hostile fire was supposedly received or to which suspected insurgents had supposedly retreated. Other civilians again were killed by U.S. troops taking revenge for losses suffered from roadside bombs or other attacks. (Last Saturday, 27 May 2007, for example, the Washington Post reported that: "Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in thewestern town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and childrenat close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporalin a roadside bombing.") If you conclude that the war is just, and decide to go to Iraq, you need to avoid being involved in the intentional or negligent killing of non-combatant civilians. If, on the basis of the evidence you have about the conduct of U.S. forces in Iraq, you anticipate that this would be very difficult or impossible to achieve, then you ought not to go in order to avoid being involved in unjustifiable killings.

Today's world seems to be highly critical of war. It is seen as destructive,

War
Today's world seems to be highly critical of war. It is seen as destructive, inefficent and deeply immoral. Though I very much agree with this view, don't wars -and conflicts in general- build cultures and identities? Don't they push civilization to grow? Don't they set history in motion? The real question I have is: Does culture need conflict?

It probably does, and a state of affairs in which everyone was blissfully happy would be very unproductive of anything except happiness. It is a bit like what we tend to think of as normal stress. If an individual is overwhelmed by stress, that is obviously a bad thing both for her and her work. If an individual feels no stress at all, then why should she do anything at all? We need some motivation to get going, presumably, and a degree of stress is fine to motivate us to get things done and succeed in our tasks. The thing about war, though, is that it so easily slips from being a period of some aggravation to becoming a highly destructive environment. What we need from a cultural point of view perhaps is more but much smaller wars!

Pages