Thoughts of an American Centrist

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Justifications for Nuclear War

Thank you to The Yellow Line, for posting an amazing discussion on the ethics (if you can call it that) of Nuclear war. The discussion spawned from the comments made by Representative Tom Tancredo, where he said:
"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites." When the host asked him if he meant ''bombing Mecca," he said, ''Yeah."
It is my position that this policy would be absolutely immoral and wrong. There is by no means a consensus, however, even among the moderate community. The argument for Trancredo's proposition is most succinctly put by Michael Reynolds (The Mighty Middle) in both the comments section and his own blog:
I am confident that the people of Hiroshima were not all supporters of Tojo. Certainly the many innocent children who were incinerated were not at fault. Likewise the children of Berlin, many other cities we effectively obliterated.

And, as others have pointed out, we stood ready to exterminate virtually all life in the old USSR for a good forty years. Deterrence is a nasty thing. So is war.

It is absurd to pretend that threats like this can be relied on to work against Al Qaeda. However, it is equally absurd to pretend that they could not work against Pakistan. Pakistan is not doing all it can in this war, it is doing all that Musharraf finds politically expedient. Ditto Saudi. Ditto Syria. Should a threat to vaporize Mecca be seen as a serious threat by these governments, the equation of expediency might change very significantly. IT might focus their minds a bit and stiffen their spines.
An interesting point. My views diverge from Michael's, however, given the fact that the bombing of Japan actually saved more lives than it cost.

Upon hearing the statistics on that, Rob Jackson stated "Well, okay I guess...still turns my stomach." I believe that sentiment very succinctly describes all war. We get so wrapped up in lauding the bravery and honor of the cause for which our greatest generation fought that we forget that the actual 4 years (more if you're not from the US) that were World War II were pure misery for all involved. The Civil War, the American Revolution, and Napolean’s march through Russia, to name a few, we most likely even harder on the soldiers than was WWII. As far back as history has been recorded, war has been the most arduous, painful, costly, and insane of all human endeavors.

As far as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are concerned, I believe that the bombs were indeed justified. Our invading forces would have lost, by conservative estimates of the time, between 100,000 and 200,000. The losses of Japanese military would be even higher. The culture of honor over life would have pushed casualties of rock-throwing, sharp-stick-bearing Japanese civilians over 1 million. The absolute horror that was the world's only nuclear attack was very dramatic, but it was the preferable option to the long, drawn out, classical invasion that necessarily would have followed. Pulling the trigger on a lesser horror to prevent one greater; that is war.

That being said, it is completely fallacious to compare today’s atomic arsenal to fat man and little boy. The strength increases of today’s atomic bombs over those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are measured by orders of magnitude. The cold war situation was completely different: mutually assured destruction. The question of whether such a policy was immoral is completely irrelevant. We had no choice. It was either point our weapons back at the USSR, or accept a Soviet empire.

That, perhaps, is what makes war so barbaric: when faced with the enemy, survival must, of necessity, trump any and all morals.

That is my thinking on the bombing of Japan and the cold war. I see no acceptable parallels between those two events and the bombing of Mecca. We bombed Japan to end a war. We threatened to bomb the Soviets to keep one from starting. Bombing Mecca would neither be a deterrent to terrorists, nor a final defeat to Jihad. It would merely be the angry response of a nation gone insane.


  • No it wouldn't. It would be the angry response of a nation that says, "Fine, you chose how to deal with us, so we'll pay you the respect of dealing the same way with you."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:30 AM  

  • But that's just the point: we wouldn't be retaliating against the terrorists, we'd be retaliating against innocent people who just happened to share their faith.

    We deal with terrorists in a merciless manner, but not innocent civilians just because the happen to be Muslim.

    By Blogger Jonathan C, at 9:45 AM  

  • It is my view that the dynamic in the loss of NYC, LA, and DC for example would be that:

    *Americans would view Muslims and Islam as the problem.
    *The solution would be to simply kill all Muslims and destroy Islam as an ideology and religion.

    We are talking about the death of between 3-10 million people, the NYT, Presidency/Supreme Court/Congress, WaPo, much of CNN/media would simply cease to exist. The moral brakes on our behavior would simply not exist. Bataan and Wake Island and Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and Tarawa and Okinawa all served to harden the US towards anything that would achieve the goal: elimination of the Japanese military and total unconditional surrender.

    Co-ordinated nuclear attacks that kill millions and decapitate our leadership in all areas would compress that WWII dynamic to a matter of days. It's naive and stupid not to talk about what would happen.

    Bin Laden cannot make nukes on his own, he'll rely on Pakistan or Iran to get them. Letting them know generally that such an attack would result in not only their nations ceasing to exist but also Islam is IMHO the only way to cut short the escalation on the other side.

    Nuclear proliferation cannot be stopped. If nations want nukes the tech is available, and well known. Western and Chinese companies WILL sell to them. The record of the UN and US/Soviets-Russia/China in controlling nukes is miserable failure. However, MAD of which this is another variant can act to deter Iran or Pakistan from arming bin Laden with nukes.

    Yes we would nuke Mecca and Medina and the nuclear armed Islamic countries if attacked in this manner. Islam would cease to exist and hundreds of millions would die who are wholly innocent. To avoid that almost anything is justifiable IMHO.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:33 PM  

  • So, Anonymous, what is that "almost anything"? How do we avoid it?? Doesn't look good, right?

    Michael Reynolds argues (and the argument has been going on at AmbivaBlog too) that we avoid it by threatening to do it, and meaning it. Richard Lawrence Cohen counters that it's a case of "speaking loudly and using a small stick," that "It sounds desperate and shrill . . . Therefore it is actually not a powerful threat."

    I don't know if I feel the war in Iraq was in essence a diversion and a distraction. Democracy and economic dynamism -- sources of earthly hope -- are the only antidotes to the allure of Paradise. I feel badly that the war was so wretchedly mismanaged. It may turn out to have been a great missed opportunity.

    By Blogger amba, at 9:02 PM  

  • anon,

    I believe that the supposition that the only way to stop a nuclear terrorist attack is by threat of retribution against supporting countries is naive. If the terrorists were to obtain nuclear weapons, how are we supposed to know who provided them with the technology? We can't very well say, "if the terrorists bomb us, we will bomb Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, and anyone else we feel may have provided them with weapons." Besides, in the doomsday scenario you talked about (which I believe is, in any instance, a gross exaggeration), there would be no CIA, NSA, or DoD to figure out who the actual culprit is.

    And that is just an argument for dealing with the aftermath of an attack. The immediate consequences of threatening Islamic holy sites and any countries we don't trust would, in effect, start another cold war in the name of the War on Terrorism, while not deterring the actual terrorists in the least. What of the long standing allies we have left in this planet? Do you seriously think Europe, East Asia, Israel, and India would really support us on this? Not a chance, we'd be going it alone. Even Tony Blair, the most pragmatic and clearheaded of our allies, would see what a fallacy this is and abandon us.

    Richard Cohen, when posting on amba's blog, was right. It is implicit threat of force that persuades, not mindless and reactionary squawking. If we want to stop a nuclear terrorist threat, we need to go after the terrorists. We need to go after them at their bases, at their suppliers, at their labs, at their remote outposts, and finally at our borders and in our cities.

    Threatening our allies (yes, believe it or not, we’re on good terms with Russia, China, and even Pakistan) is not an effective way to achieve this goal. Threatening the world-wide symbol of one of the largest earthly religions is even worse.

    By Blogger Jonathan C, at 9:14 AM  

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