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Saturday, November 04, 2023


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The ignorance of military matters displayed by Wolf’s comment is astonishing. It assumes that the mere possession of nuclear weapons allows for their deployment in all strategic or tactical situations. Given the size of Israel, about that of New Jersey, the feasibility of utilizing even small yield (tactical) nuclear bombs close to or within her borders very low, since their use would expose her own population, concentrated as it is in a small, narrow strip of land to lethal doses of radiation, leading to high mortality and morbidity. Now, I suppose in an absolutely desperate situation, the decision could be made to employ such weapons, but they would be an unqualified last resort, one employed if Muslim armies had broken through defenses the IDF field forces, after first gaining air supremacy. The enemies of Israel, the terrorist organizations and, perhaps, neighboring Arab states will be fought at the gates of the nation and with conventional weapons. If Wolf had bother to even glance at the state of Israel’s nuclear deterrent, he would realize this reality (actually, in his case, since he is politically delusional, probably not). Right now, Israel is estimated to possess 100 nuclear weapons, both strategic and tactical, with enough fissile material for perhaps another 100. Some of these are mounted on her Jericho II mobile ballistic missiles, each with a range of over 5,000 km, and her fixed, deeply buried Jericho III ballistic missiles, which can fly as much as 11,000 km. These are theatre nuclear weapons, designed to strike deeply into the interior of Iran or any other hostile state in the region. They would not be deployed in more proximate battles, the ones that are the most likely to occur. Besides these delivery systems, Israel can load nuclear bombs on her excellent F-15I and F-16 Sufa fighter bombers and the even more advanced F-35, all of which can reach Iran with mid-flight refueling, or on the cruise missiles carried by her highly advanced, German-built Dolphin class diesel submarines. Now, these aircraft and submarines could direct these bombs to targets closer to home, as in Syria, for instance, but the above-mentioned constraints imposed by geography would render targets closer or within Israel itself thinkable only as a last resort. Hence, they offer no absolute guarantee to the survival of the nation.

Good points, Vito. I had been asking myself about the feasibility of using tactical nukes against Hezbollah installations in Lebanon, but as you point out, even tactical nukes are out of the question so close to Israel.

Any thoughts about flooding the Hamas tunnels?

We are in deep trouble with fools at the head of our gov't. I am thinking of Biden's lie about the Palestinians not supporting Hamas when the former voted for the latter.

And then there are our open borders. I am glad I am 73 and not 37. I've had good run . . .

From what I read in the Israeli press, the IDF has no intention of entering the tunnels, knowing that they are death traps. It plans, instead, to find their entrances and exits and destroy these, trapping the terrorists inside, where they will suffocate and die. I would assume that this general approach would be modified only in cases where hostages were known to be in a certain tunnel and had to rescued. The latter case would be a nightmare, even with the deployment of robots.


Did you see Mark Levin's show tonight? His references to Vicksburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki raise the question of RC just war theory. I would be interested in hearing your position on the latter.


Raymond Ibrahim https://www.meforum.org/65151/will-biden-new-islamophobia-strategy-explain-why

One would certainly think that Hamas has put hostages in every last tunnel. Why wouldn't they? This whole attack has been so horrible that I can't see any other result than that God will exact a terrible vengeance for it. The IDF can do its best, but I certainly believe that there will be additional retribution from beyond this material world.



I support RC just war theory, and I believe that the terror bombing of German and Japanese cities in 1944-45, including the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, morally unjustified. In arriving at this conclusion, I obviously admit that the Allied cause in the war was good and that a bad effect is permitted if it is unintended and unavoidable consequence of a good effect; thus, the tactical bombing of military targets, such as army installations, airfields, navy bases, munitions factories, transport networks, and oil fields and refineries, is morally permissible (a good effect), even though non-combatants will die or be injured as a consequence (an unintended bad effect). For instance, the raids by USAF bombers against German oil refineries that began in May of 1944 and which radically reduced the petroleum available to its armies and air force and which crippled the Luftwaffe’s combat power or the intensive raids on the French rail network before Overlord are pardonable acts of violence, even though both actions resulted in many civilian deaths. On the other hand, the continuing terror bombing of German cities by the British Bomber Command, with 45 or the 60 principal German cities essentially destroyed and “not many industrial centres of population now left intact” (Letter of November 1, 1944 of Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris to Sir Charles Portal) had as its aim the deliberate and intentional killing of civilians was, thus, a highly immoral act, which, in addition, had marginal if any military value. Without going into detail, this conclusion applies equally to the fire bombings of Japan’s cities that began in May of 1945, some producing single-raid casualties in excess of those of the atomic bombs, or the dropping of the latter weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is, at a time when “Japan’s war-making powers were in terminal decline from blockade” (Max Hastings, Retribution, 528), with the actual, if unstated, objective of these terror tactics being again the direct and intentional killing of massive numbers of civilians as the means to force the brutal militarist in control of Japan’s government to accept unconditional surrender. The justification for these killings is that Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu, would result in unprecedented American casualties (granted), thus permitting the terror bombing, an evil act. The abandonment of the demand for unconditional surrender (which was actually modified in the final days of the war) that might have concluded the conflict without such an invasion and the mass death from the sky is simply assumed to be immutable.

In the interest of linguistic precision, I prefer "Jew-hating Jew."

I was looking for an opportunity to share this metaphor from my favorite Trotskyist historian, Isaac Deutscher (1907-1967):

“A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house, having recovered, would have tried to help and console the other sufferer; and the latter might have realized that he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control. But look what happens when these people behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at first, hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of both men and to poison their minds.” --Isaac Deutscher, The Non-Jewish Jew

The invasion of the Japanese home islands, which would have been necessary had the atom bombs not been dropped, would have killed far more Japanese than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My dad, who was flying P-38s in the Pacific, said that he and his pilot buddies to a man thought that their chances of surviving the invasion of the home islands were very poor indeed, and he had already lost his only brother in the war.

The A-bombs were a miracle of deliverance all around.

You are correct, but fall short of spelling out exactly how Hamas per se could ever be an existential threat to Israel, given Israel's conventional (non-nuclear) superiority. Hamas couldn't, but it's really a very straightforward series of dominos. Hamas' successful attack was intended to induce other players in the Middle East to attack Israel, thus putting them in a multifront war. Hezbollah, of course, has been rattling the sabers on Israel's north, Iran is providing the funding, and Saudi Arabia and others have pulled back from negotiations on the Abraham Accords, waiting to see what will happen. All that is necessary to spark a larger conflagration is for Israel to misstep in its justified attack on Hamas and provide "spin" fuel for the Left's flacks at the UN, in the Democrat party, and the media. Given the weak (near supine) leadership of the Biden administration, Washington might then cave to public pressure and withhold military support for Israel. At that point, Israel's survival is very much an issue, and the nuclear option might come into play - which will be the Left's moment to bring worldwide condemnation down on Israel and finish it for good.

To be clear, I am not describing a slippery slope from Hamas to Israel's demise; I am describing a state of affairs that is up and running right now. Israel is indeed in an existential crisis.

Yesterday in American Greatness, some intelligent observations by VDH "The Mindset of Our Anti-Semites":https://amgreatness.com/2023/11/06/the-mindset-of-our-anti-semites/

Bro Joe,

You are not at all fazed by Vito's erudite comment?


I admire your command of the historical details. I myself go back and forth on the Just War question. We are approaching the problem of 'dirty hands.' Stay tuned.


Your comment lacks an addressee.

No I am not fazed. The A-bomb saved my dad's life. And atomic weapons have prevented great power wars for 80 years now.

Sorry, Bill, my comment was to your original response to Wolff.

But on the RC Just War conversation, I am not up on RC Just War theory, but in our contemporary times, it most often reduces to a simple calculation of "no or minimal civilian/non-combatant deaths," without any regard to the overall situation and complicated context of the war. I haven't given this much thought, but preliminarily it seems to me that there is a sense in which a population of a state can be held responsible for the actions of its leaders in prosecuting a war. That's not to say that wholesale targeting of civilians would then be permissible, but limited targeting in pursuit of convincing a hardline leadership and military to surrender would seem justified. "Limited targeting" of course would again be an elastic standard depending on the context. Japan is a case in point here, I think, and as such, I consider Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be a terrible necessity but fully justified.

The overall justification for such war-acts is that they should be taken always with the specific goal of ending the war as soon as possible - to minimize and stop greater killing if the war doesn't end. This was the Gary Cooper/Sgt York principle, by the way.

I also listened to Mark Levin on Vicksburg and the refusal of the North to allow any civilians to leave or otherwise have a sanctuary. And it struck me that the effect of this strategy was to essentially turn the moral calculus onto the Southern troops. They were surrounded; they could not win, but they were intent on continuing the fight. But to continue fighting would mean death and suffering for the populace, especially the women and children. At this point, Southern commanders had to realize their own moral responsibility to accept the inevitable surrender and save their people from further pointless harm.

The parallel here, of course, is that Hamas cannot win and they ought to surrender to stop further harm to their people. They of course won't because they really do not care about the Gazans. But that failure is their guilt which ought not be willy-nilly transferred to Israel for prosecuting the war that Hamas started.

Interestingly, in the closing months of the war, the Allies were certainly not in a situation of "extreme emergency" (Walzer) that might be brought forth to justify the necessity of terror bombing and hence of dirty hands. Whether this concept absolves the use of this tactic in earlier years of the war, as for instance in the months of July to October 1940 during the Battle of Britain or December 1941 with the Germans at the gates of Moscow, is another question.


You say that the Allies were not in a situation of extreme emergency at the end of WW2. Not obvious to me. Had the Nazis developed atomic weapons, they would have used them against us and perhaps provide them to the Japs.

If anyone is offended by my use of 'Japs,' that was the moniker used in those days.

Thanks for the link to VDH. It deserves more time for study than I have.

Joe sez: >>The A-bomb saved my dad's life.<<

Most likely it did. But the moral status of an action (in this case the ordering by Truman of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) cannot be determined by its consequences for a particular person or his family. Impersonal considerations need to be brought to bear. Actually, you yourself begin to do that with your remark that >>atomic weapons have prevented great power wars for 80 years now.<<

Objectively speaking, the Wehrmacht's research into nuclear technology began in late 1939, but within three years’ time, it had concluded that nuclear fission possessed little military potential, and the effort was handed over to the Reich Research Council, which parceled out the research to nine institutes. Turned from a military into civilian project under Heisenberg, the goal--unsuccessfully achieved because of a 50 percent lack of uranium--was now to build a small nuclear reactor with uranium emersed in heavy water. Thus, the Nazi atomic program, which lacked political support and was hence very poorly funded (in today’s currency: $24 million dollars vs. $24 billion dollars for the US Manhattan Protect) was effectively derailed after 1942.

But the issue that you raise of the Allied fear that the Nazi program was far more advanced than this and might succeed is obviously distinct. What do we know about the extent of Allied knowledge? American fears were great in 1942, the year that the Manhattan Project began, given the comparative scientific expertise of the US and Germany at that time. However, these fears began to ease in 1943 and 1944, as American and British intelligence learned more about the German atomic effort. Specifically, by the end of 1943, the British, following the movements of Heisenberg and determining that no industrialized atomic program existed, informed the Manhattan Project that the German program had reached a dead end. However, the Americans, and in particular General Groves, treated this intelligence with skepticism, and continued to pace their research on the assumption of a real German atomic threat. As 1944 waned, however, and this is the important point, the political and scientific leadership of the US concluded that, in the words of Secretary Stimpson, “we were probably now well ahead of them.” By November, the head of the Alsos intelligence project went further in stating, “Germany has no atomic bomb and was not likely to have one I the reasonable future.” With this assessment (not absolute knowledge but an evaluation with a very high degree of certainty), I think that we can judge that the Allies were not and knew they were not in state of extreme emergency from the closing months of 1944 until the end of the war, during which some of the most destructive terror bombings of German civilian targets occurred.


You've made a convincing case that there was no state of extreme emergency at the end of WW2 sufficient to justify the targeting of noncombatants in Japan and Germany.

Perhaps a consequentialist argument can be mounted: the consequences in terms of overall human suffering and death would have been worse if the war had dragged on and the invasion of the Jap home islands was undertaken than if what actually happened happened. To which you might plausibly reply: certain actions (demoralizing a population by slaughtering noncombatants) are just intrinsically wrong no matter how good their consequences.

There is also the question of collective guilt and collective punishment. Palestinian Arabs voted for Hamas. Don't they share in the moral responsibility for the October 7th massacre? Even the ones who committed no terrorist acts?

Related question: Don't Biden supporters deserve our contempt given that they knew or ought to have known what his weakness, stupidity, incompetence, and general moral corruption could lead to? None of these things would be happening if Trump were president?

Vito & Bill: I think WWII itself - an entire world at war - constituted an extreme emergency. Everyone knew at the time that WWII needed to end and needed to end as soon as possible to prevent the carnage and killing from continuing. As it was, WWII recorded over 55 million dead, 30 million of which were civilians. It was especially important to end the war because of the nature of the Axis powers: Japan was an insular & brutal regime given to what are now commonly recognized as war crimes as its modus operandi. And German aggression had fueled wars on the continent going back well before WWI, to the 1860's and 1870's when it attacked Denmark and Austria and lured France into a war. The Allies were quite clear - and correct - that total surrender of the Axis powers was necessary if the world was to have a chance at sustained peace.

Extreme circumstances dictate extreme measures. You can certainly quibble and second-guess some actions taken in the emotion and uncertainty of those times, but overall the measures the Allies took to win the war I believe were entirely justified under the circumstances.

I would also note that, according to Victor Davis Hanson in his book The Second World Wars, Germany and Japan were responsible for an overwhelming number of civilians killed during the war - which was another justification for defeating them both as soon as possible and with whatever means were necessary.


On the collective guilt question - I've now seen and heard repeated a few times the odd assertion that the Palestinians who voted for Hamas in 2006 (mostly) did so because Hamas seemed a superior choice at the time due to Fatah's corruption etc. Yet if the British people, perceiving that the Labour and Conservative parties are corrupt and useless (which is true), in our next general election elected the National Front (a far right, white supremacist party) with a majority, and the National Front government began a campaign of violently attacking non-white British citizens and as the result of this the UK were treated by the 'international community' as a pariah state (let's say with sanctions) would this treatment not be justified? And wouldn't that treatment have been an obvious consequence of the decision to vote for a repulsive bunch of extremists with an explicitly violent political programme? And if a British individual had not himself voted for the NF would he still not have to accept that it was right for the world to treat his nation adversely? He could be justifiably angry with those of his fellow Britons who had voted for the NF, but if he were angry with other nations for their treatment of Britain it would be hard to see what justification he had for his anger. Would he not have to accept that his newly impoverished state due to the sanctions was the result of justifiable actions? And would it not be the case that for those who had voted for the NF, they were either criminally stupid, selfish or evil and deserved to reap what they sowed? This is when many Leftists start trying to excuse these decisions - of course, only when they involve objectionable left-wing or otherwise left-favoured parties like Hamas - with assertions that people are 'desperate' - but while that might be a viable psychological explanation it is not a moral excuse. And ignorance of a party's true motives would only be an excuse if this information were hidden - which in the case of the NF, or Hamas, is not the case.

Americans should be very glad Jeremy Corbyn did not win the last UK election. I'm not sure to what extent most Americans are aware of this but he considers Hamas and Hezbollah his 'friends'! If he had won, I think I would now be in a similar situation of despairing anger to the hypothetical Briton I just described, and Israel would certainly be in an even worse situation.

The problems that you raise, Bill, are not easily resolved, and, for whatever they are worth, here a few of my thoughts on them. Regarding consequentialism, you hit on the main objection, that is, that “certain actions (demoralizing a population by slaughtering noncombatants) are just intrinsically wrong no matter how good their consequences,” whether we reach this conclusion on religious grounds (ex. Veritas Splendor) or by rational argumentation. I admit that the decision to reject a consequentialist ethic is not always evident. Keeping the numbers in question small helps clarify the dilemma. For instance, if I tell you that beating a three-year-old boy to death with a club (evil act) will save the lives of two, three, or four boys of the same age (good consequence), anyone with a conscience would instinctively refuse. Now, I think that our reaction here tells us something about how we should react to terror bombing, which involves the intentional slaughter of many innocent little boys and many other non-combatants, but when large numbers and great distance cloud our choice. Of course, one could come up with counter-examples, such as the rightness of telling a lie (evil act) to protect the lives of children from murders who are hunting them, as, for example, lying to the SS at your door, when you have Jewish kids in the attic. But here a small evil act is committed to prevent a far greater evil consequence. This is not an entirely satisfactory solution, I admit, because we are weighing acts and consequences, which breaks with moral absolutism.

Yes, the supporters of Hamas bear some responsibility for the actions of the terrorists, but to what extent? Israel made a judgement that the civilians of Gaza, including all those who voted for and supported or tolerated Hamas but who were not terrorists, could leave Gaza City, thus escaping the bombing and shelling of the IDF. This seems just. These people have lost their homes and sacrificed their normal way of living, both of which is a heavy price, one that follows from their backing or acquiescence to evil, but they were correctly not treated as targets, that is, of persons deserving death, since they were not active terrorists. Thus, the punishment, as with crimes in law, was proportionate. The same holds for supporters of the Left in the US; such persons are worthy of public criticism and, at times, sanctions, and private shunning, but certainly not, unless they pose a physical threat, of more extreme actions.

Tom, I thank you for your thoughtful comments, to which I would like to respond.

You write: “Extreme circumstances dictate extreme measures. You can certainly quibble and second-guess some actions taken in the emotion and uncertainty of those times, but overall the measures the Allies took to win the war I believe were entirely justified under the circumstances.”

(1) Here, you adopt a very broad perspective, but the focus of this discussion has been limited to the morality of the terror bombings of German cities in the opening months of 1945 and those of Japan from March, but especially from May to August 1945 in light of RC just war theory. Neither Bill nor I have commented on or called into question the more general strategic planning or operations of the Allied Powers

(2) I do believe that the questioning of the morality of terror bombing, that is, the deliberate and intentional killing of civilians, what Churchill called “de-housing,” as distinct from area bombing of military targets where such deaths were unavoidable and unintended, is quibbling or hairsplitting. After all, we are speaking of thousands of civilian deaths, including those of the most innocent and most infirm.

In fact, and this a crucial point, both the morality and, I might add, the military utility of terror bombing were raised withing the ruling circles, political and military, of the Allies at the time. Regarding Germany, we have to recall the massive nature of this deadly campaign in the early months of 1945, when the Allies dropped over 370,000 tons of bombs on Germany’s cities, which is more than double the dropped tonnage of the RAF in 1943. If there is a military rationale for this level of intended killing, I would like to hear it. One has to merely compare the destruction of Germany’s oil production capacity through the precision bombing raids of the USAAF in late 1944, which crippled the Luftwaffe, and of its transport network, to which the obsessed Harris repeatedly refused to divert RAF bombers squadrons, to the marginal, if that, military harms of terror bombing. Turning briefly to Japan, the terror bombings of the last months of the war, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are premised on the belief that unconditional surrender was an absolute given and would require the invasion of the home islands, resulting in horrendous American causalities. But are we obliged to accept this given? Certainly, unconditional surrender did not, as popularly pictured, receive the unanimous endorsement of Allied political leadership. “A strong party in the State Department headed by [Under Secretary and former Ambassador to Japan] Joseph Grew…favoured a public commitment to allow Japan to retain its national polity, the kokutai, of which the most notable feature was the status of the emperor” (Hastings, Retribution, 775). This view was shared by Sect. of War Stimpson and Navy Sect. Forrestal, as well as Winston Churchill. While I do deny the delusional thinking and intransigence of the Japanese militarists, it must be admitted that Truman, concerned about American public opinion, was highly inflexible on this matter, necessitating the murderous scenario of the late spring and summer of 1945.


Setting aside the historical details, my command of which cannot hold a candle to yours, consider this problem.

That the deliberate targeting of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and cannot be justified under any circumstances is one of the entailments of Catholic just war doctrine. If I understand the Catholic doctrine, it implies that if Harry Truman had a crystal ball and knew the future with certainty and saw that the Allies would have lost had they not used the methods they used, and that the whole world would have been been plunged into a Dark Age for two centuries -- he still would not have been justified in ordering the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Indeed, if the deliberate targeting of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and unjustifiable under any circumstances and regardless of any consequences, then it is better that the earth be blown to pieces than that evil be done. This, I suppose, is one reading of fiat iustitia pereat mundus, "Let justice be done though the world perish." Although I invoked an historical example, nothing hinges on it since a matter of principle is at stake.

This extreme anti-consequentialism troubles me if it is thought to be relevant to how states ought to conduct themselves. Suppose that there is no God and no soul and no post-mortem existence, and thus that this life is all there is. Suppose the political authorities let the entire world be destroyed out of a refusal to target and kill innocent civilians of a rogue state. This would amount to the sacrificing of humanity to an abstract absolutist moral principle. This would be moral insanity.

On the other hand, extreme anti-consequentialism would make sense if the metaphysics of the Catholic Church or even the metaphysics of Kant were true. If God is real then this world is relatively unreal and relatively unimportant. If the soul is real, then its salvation is our paramount concern, and every worldly concern is relatively insignificant. For the soul to be saved, it must be kept free from, or absolved of, every moral stain in which case it can never be right to do evil in pursuit of good. Now the deliberate killing of innocent human beings is evil and so must never be done -- regardless of consequences. On a Christian moral scheme, morality is not in the service of our animal life here below; we stand under an absolute moral demand that calls us from beyond this earthly life and speaks to our immortal souls, not to our mortal bodies. Christianity is here consonant with the great Socratic thought that it is better to suffer evil, wrong, injustice than to to do them. (Plato, Gorgias, 469a)

But then a moral doctrine that is supposed to govern our behavior in this world rests on an other-worldly metaphysics. No problem with that -- if the metaphysics is true. For then one's flourishing in this world cannot amount to much as compared to one's flourishing in the next. But how do we know that the metaphysics is true? Classical theistic metaphysics is reasonably believed, but then so are certain versions of naturalism.

I am not claiming that classical theism false. I myself believe it to be true. My point is that we know that this world is no illusion and is at least relatively real, together with its goods, but we merely believe that God and the soul are real.

If the buck stops with you and the fate of civilization itself depends on your decision, will you act according to a moral doctrine that rests on a questionable metaphysics or will you act in accordance with worldly wisdom, a wisdom that dictates that in certain circumstances the deliberate targeting of the innocent is justified?

I understood intuitively that the RC just war doctrine depends precisely on the metaphysical world view that you outline here, but your eloquent comment brings the issue into sharp focus, and I thank you for it. Again, we are back to your often repeated advice on these matters: We have to choose, since certainty is beyond the cognitive powers of embodied souls. As you say, we do not know that the other-worldly metaphysical assumptions of the RC just war doctrine are true, and to act in accordance with them in the palpable here-and-now reality, the stuff of “worldly wisdom,” in which we find ourselves is certainly no easy task. I admit, in fact, that the often very high costs of disregarding the contingent realities of the material world, including political and military realities in time of war, incline most men to violate the doctrine. But, as you know, that does not mean that it is wrong, but merely that these men have chosen other metaphysical assumptions, ones that place the temporal and material above the eternal and spiritual. So, we are back to making a choice, and perhaps in these very difficult moments it is only the saints among us that come forth to uphold the other Kingdom. A hard issue that allows for no easy answer.


To further focus the problem of dirty hands we need to distinguish between the problem as it arises for those with political power and ordinary citizens such as you and I who have no political power to speak of. Suppose the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces accepts the trad RC just war doctrine, and suppose he is in a situation in which the nation he has sworn to protect will be destroyed if he does not violate said doctrine. He adheres to the trad doctrine and allows his nation to be destroyed.

By what right does he impose his metaphysics upon the entire nation, most of whom reject it? The metaphysics is based on faith, a reasoned faith, but a faith nonetheless that goes beyond what we can legitimately claim to know.

Fiat justitia pereat mundus? Which is better known: the mundus or the metaphysical underpinnings of the justitia?

This problem -- Gott sei dank -- does not arise for an obscure blogger such as myself. The bliss of obscurity!


Is it really true that the just war doctrine depends on the metaphysical world view that you outline?

It seems that one could argue that the doctrine developed by experience, slowly, over centuries, “bottom-up” by observing what the princes do in war and what was acceptable to them, and did not come from “top-down” noodling about normative values.

And it was not all Catholic, either. Hugo Grotius was a Dutch Protestant, but I take the point that the Church embraced the just war doctrine.

If I may paraphrase you:

“If the buck stopped with you, Hugo Grotius, and the fate of civilization itself depended on your decision, would there not be some circumstances in which the deliberate targeting of the innocent is justified?”

I think Grotius would have trouble with what is really a 20th century question. The “fate of civilization” is a question that properly comes to us from the nuclear era.

Certainly, “civilizational” wars were fought before Grotius was born (at Lepanto, 1571) and after he died (siege of Vienna, 1683), but generally his experience was that of wars with limited objectives, often fought with mercenary armies, and not modern wars of general mobilizations, fought with unlimited objectives.

It was this shift from limited to unlimited wars in the 20th century that presents the unsolvable question you’ve asked. I'm not sure Grotius would have gotten that.

Just war doctrine emerged from Western Civilizational. The West gave it to the world. It emerged from a centuries-long bumpy transition from feudal and dynastic monarchies to the period of the modern state.

It was destroyed in the 20th century, mostly at the hands of Westerns. At least four war-related distinctions were destroyed, those between:

— war and peace
— combatants and non-combatants
— neutrals and belligerents, and
— public and private systems of authority (i.e., “sovereignty”).

Traditionally, war was formally declared, but the 20th century saw major wars initiated without a declaration, often by surprise attack. By mid-century, the Cold War further blurred the distinction between war and peace; it gave us examples of the U.S. fighting hot wars while a cold peace reigned between the Superpowers. This pattern of fighting wars without declaration continues to this day.

The violation of the distinction between combatants and non-combats has been well treated in the discussion above, especially by Vito Caiati.

As for the rights of neutrals, one could say it was first violated by Germany’s attack on Belgium in 1914, but that was quickly followed by Britain’s unlawful blockade of Holland, a declared neutral, and Germany’s life line to the outside world. Since it was often hard for German U-boat captains to distinguish between enemy and neutral shipping, the naval situation slid into unrestricted submarine warfare. The U.S. went to war in 1917 for several reasons, but one of them was to defend the rights of neutrals. In our own day, the West has slapped a heavy load of economic sanctions on Russia. Third parties, those who would want to be neutral on the Ukraine War, are squeezed. Better to yield to U.S. sanctions pressure than to complain about American infringements of its rights to trade with Russia.

Finally, the traditional criteria for sovereignty was the state’s ability to enforce law and order over its territory. The greatest achievement any state could make would be to eliminate private militias and power challengers from its land. The standard was more or less objective. In the 20th century, this was replaced by a subjective standard, with recognition of statehood withheld because of differences over ideology and even human rights. Many members of the U.N. today cannot enforce the law within their borders, yet they are widely recognized as states.


You make a number of good points. You ask: >>Is it really true that the just war doctrine depends on the metaphysical world view that you outline?<<

It depends on what 'depends' means. Are you asking about a genetic dependence or a logical/structural dependence? I take it that what interests you is the former: how the just war doctrine came about or developed historically. If that is the question, then you may well be right.

Suppose your account of how the just war doctrine arose is perfect. That doesn't decide the question of the justification or lack of justification of the doctrine. In particular, it leaves open a question that arises in the hypothetical situation I sketched (I set it up hypothetically to sidestep the endless historical controversy instanced by the difference between Tom and Vito above). I wrote:

"Suppose the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces accepts the trad RC just war doctrine, and suppose he is in a situation in which the nation he has sworn to protect will be destroyed if he does not violate said doctrine. He adheres to the trad doctrine and allows his nation to be destroyed."

The question is: should he adhere to the doctrine (as Elizabeth Anscombe thought Truman should have adhered) and let his country be destroyed? Or should he violate the doctrine and allow his forces to commit acts that are intrinsically immoral, acts that count as murder (and not as 'collateral damage')?

YES if the underlying metaphysics is true. NO if it is not.

"But then: By what right does he impose his metaphysics upon the entire nation, most of whom reject it? The metaphysics is based on faith, a reasoned faith, but a faith nonetheless that goes beyond what we can legitimately claim to know."

This is the problem of dirty hands, or a part of it. And it is this problem that I am trying to understand.

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