Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/7/17”

Hamburg, post allied bombing, WWII

Ethics Alarms doesn’t have many discussions of foreign policy, in part because policy is usually less about ethics and more about practical realities, theory and policy. What discussion we do have involves leadership, a secondary passion here. Warfare, in contrast, is an ethics category, but also a grand, meta-ethics morass that isn’t a safe space for ethics generally. I regard war as the ultimate ethical anomaly where the rules and theories break down. We cannot avoid encountering mobius strip sequences like..

War is inherently unethical.

Sometimes war is an  unavoidable and utilitarian necessity.

In such cases, it is essential to end such a war as quickly as possible.

The quickest and the most ethical way to end such a war as quickly as possible is by overwhelming and uncompromising force.

Uncompromising force inevitably involves the maximum loss of innocent life, and is unethical.

Half-measures prolong the damage of war and are also unethical.

Wait…where were we again?

My father—the kindest man I ever knew, a grievously wounded war hero and a natural leader who hated guns, detested war (but hated what he saw at the death camp he helped liberate more), would have devoted his life to the military service of his country if he could have and who told his son that if he chose to duck the draft during the Vietnam War that he had his full support—would repeatedly rail against modern surgical tactics designed to avoid civilian deaths at all costs as madness, and a symptom of weak resolve and cowardly leadership. His reasoning: “We could not have won World War II if the news services had been allowed to publicize what war does to civilian populations. It is as simple as that. We would have lost, and Hitler would have won, killed millions more, and divided up the world between Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. The public had no concept about the horrible things we had to do, and that I participated in, to win that war. If one side is ruthless and the other side is more concerned about collateral damage than winning…and the ruthless side knows it, then ruthless wins.

He died after only a year of Barack Obama’s Presidency, but believed him to be a dangerously deluded and ignorant man regarding the use of power and military force.

I thought about all of this as I read texagg04’s Comment of the Day on the final item of yesterday’s Morning Warm-up. which began,

5.An ethics  question about the North Korea crisis: do common sense ethics apply to foreign affairs? Listening and reading various experts and authorities, I am struck by how many seem to argue that negotiation with the North Korean regime is the only palatable option. The fact that this is simply and unquestionably agreeing to international blackmail by a resolute evil-doer seems to be either unrecognized or ignored.

Here is his Comment of the Day, which Dad would have admired, on the post. “Morning Ethics Warm-up 7/7/17”:

There are only 2 possibly appropriate responses to North Korea in my analysis. And yes, dithering and playing Neville Chamberlain isn’t one of them. Both are serious gambles and both represent the exact kind of dichotomy of actively do something now versus passively hope nature takes its course that we run into on all manner of political debates.

1) Do nothing. Mathematically the socialist state of North Korea, in its extreme form, cannot sustain forever. It can sustain a few more generations, but it really does boil down to a painful mathematical ratio of calories produced and population to consume those calories. NK doesn’t have enough. They’re population will continue to weaken and starve itself until it reaches some sort of epidemic level of immuno-deficiency or other malady and have a population implosion.

Of course, waiting on nature to handle NK is a major gamble as they slowly plod through their technological advancements while their sustenance crisis explodes they will get desperate enough to use the technology.

2) Attack. Attack overwhelmingly. Attack simultaneously from all avenues available. The burden here is Seoul WILL get clobbered and clobbered HARD. To minimize what will be an appalling number of civilian casualties, there would have to be an automatic evacuation plan to empty Seoul or get the civilians into shelters. But any such plan going into effect would be an immediate signal to North Korea that it is game on. So any such evacuation & sheltering would have to happen nearly simultaneously with the initial phases of the attack itself.

And the military aspect of the attack would have to focus entirely on ALL North Korean assets that can impact Seoul. That means Air Force, Artillery positions, missiles, etc. our Air Defense and missile intercept units would have to be on their game.

Our naval contingent would have to be massive, the approach of which would also be a long-range signal that something is up. So some sort of lie would have to be generated for why the fleet approaches.

The ground fight would be incredibly swift.

It’s the humanitarian side of things that will be ugly. Not withstanding the countless civilian deaths, the occupation of North Korea and reacculturation would be unprecedented. When we liberated the concentration camps in WW2 we rapidly learned that the malnourished and sick prisoners still needed to be administered inside the prisons until they’d been reacclimatized. The influx of freedom and food was also a danger to them. And those guys were only prisoners for a half a decade. North Koreans have been brainwashed and malnourished for generations.

The whole country would have to be occupied and administered in not too different from the conditions it is in now for years of slowly getting them back towards modernity and humanity. Which would cause no small hemming and hawing on our part when we wonder why they can’t just be free westerners immediately. Never mind the partisan bickering on what we consider appropriate “reacculturation” since we have our own sick malaise of self loathing towards our own western ideals permeating our own culture.

No. We’ll never pick #2 because we can easily anticipate the horrendous cost in exchange for a #1 which consigns a horrendous cost to the future that we can pretend won’t have to be paid.


24 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/7/17”

  1. I don’t entirely agree. There is a diplomatic option. Neither China nor Russia want us invading east Asia and China probably wields the most influence over NK. If we engage China diplomatically and draw a clear line about when we will attack NK (and follow through, if necessary), China may rein NK in.

    • No doubt China can weild some power over NK. But NK is still a festering sore waiting to collapse…and the day it comes close to collapse, the criminal regime WILL GET RECKLESS, and there will be a price that must be paid in that eventual future.

      One of the key points I tried to emphasize is we have a tendency to avoid paying a price now pretending like that price won’t have to be paid by someone in the future (and likely a more expensive one at that).

  2. I prefer option 3: using vast technological superiority (that we admittedly may not have yet) to sneak in and neutralize the offensive potential of the entire country, then use advanced psychological techniques to avoid the Good Bye Lenin! problem while formally arresting the leadership. They let some citizens talk to relatives from South Korea occasionally, so I’m skeptical as to how widespread and how deep any actual brainwashing could be. Culture shock and PTSD would still be a major hurdle, though.

    There’s also option 4, which would be to talk to the leadership, find out what makes them tick, and if appropriate offer helpful advice to build open-mindedness. The more they actually believe they’re helping their people, the easier it should be to instill them with massive guilt if we show them how suboptimal their behavior is. It’s not a guarantee, but I find collaborative truth-seeking is actually quite effective on people, and I’ve never heard of any leaders actually trying it in politics, ever.

    • “instill them with massive guilt if we show them how suboptimal their behavior is.”
      Who do you think we’d be talking to, a university president? Totalitarian dictators are somewhat resistant to being made to feel guilt.

      • It depends on what approach is taken. The subtle approach tends to work better than the direct approach, because it doesn’t cause people to become defensive. Mostly I’m professionally curious as to how effective the psychological approach would be, because I’ve never heard of it being tried.

        • You haven’t heard of it being tried, because we know it won’t work. Phillip Berrigan said that he didn’t know whether passive resistance—like Gandhi—might have stopped World War II, because it wasn’t tried. He really said that. He really did.

          • Who said anything about passive resistance? I’m just highly curious as to how communist dictators would react if we somehow snuck into their country, pretended to be agents of the dictator, and started handing out food in the dictator’s name, for example. I suppose it depends on how powerful their censorship is, because if they can suppress the bad PR from arresting such people, it wouldn’t work very well. If they couldn’t afford to arrest them, it would be entertaining to see what they would do.

            Basically, I’m using surprise mindset to come up with trolling tactics. People tend to lose their composure when other people behave in ways they don’t expect, and the last thing a communist dictatorship expects is help from the United States (well, these days, anyway). Admitting that they are refusing help, that the help is superior to their own abilities, or even that they are receiving help would be embarrassing for them, so they’d have to play along.
            When the help dries up, they’d have to scramble to pretend it never happened.

            Heck, what if we just promised all the leaders a luxury prison suite if they left the country? There are a thousand ways to get inside someone’s head; one of them is probably worth trying. I could keep on brainstorming. I’d like to think that our military leaders are thinking outside the box, but I don’t know how much effort they’re putting into actually solving the problem of North Korea, as opposed to keeping it contained.

            • Common sense realism (my new catch phrase) would suggest that cute tactics would backfire, those who have survived in NK (natural selection and extreme environment) have no shame, no original thought, no introspection, and no sense of humor.

              You think what the Party wants you to think, or die… or worse. Yes, there is worse than death when communism has run amok for more than two generations.

              • You raise an excellent point. Surprise mindset would need to take into account the oppressive paradigms that people are using. I figured that this would make them easier to short-circuit, but as you point out, it probably actually means they have a fixed response to anything they don’t understand, so creating true confusion would be much more difficult. Still, it does make them more predictable, so that’s something in our favor.

    • “The more they actually believe they’re helping their people…”

      I’m pretty sure “helping their people” is very, very low on the priority list for brutal totalitarian regimes that rule by fear and paranoia.

    • “There’s also option 4, which would be to talk to the leadership, find out what makes them tick, and if appropriate offer helpful advice to build open-mindedness”

      Power. Holding onto power and maintaining themselves in a self-styled deity-like position. That’s what makes them tick. And no, it’s not in our interests to offer helpful advice for them in that regard.

      • And when they get bored, feeding their relatives to starving dogs and shooting political dissidents with anti-aircraft guns is apparently another thing that makes them tick.

        • Unreasonable people are even easier to manipulate, as it happens. Paranoiacs, megalomaniacs, paranoid megalomaniacs… They’ve got giant buttons that just beg to be pressed. The only real trick is making sure they break quietly.

          • But history has shown that when such are in power, breaking them causes great harm to the innocent… or at least the unintended victims.

            Stalin, Mao, Hitler… Pol Pot, for that matter. That guy was broken BEFORE he had power…

          • Even most obviously evil people need to feel that other people are no better. It vindicates them, in their eyes. If we give them an out, it will have at least some effect on their will to fight.

            In other words, it doesn’t matter that they’re obviously evil; we need to start out treating them nicely, and showing concern for their citizens, and if they refuse to do things which help their citizens, then we can get mad, and their credibility will be diminished in the eyes of their allies, their oppressed citizens, and even themselves. It’s kind of a national good-cop, bad-cop routine.

        • I think the South Koreans and Chinese have objections a radioactive smoking ruin next door. That is the only big stick I can think of that would work.

          Sorry for the snark, EC. You are trying to make sense out of what cannot make sense: how to deal with a truly mad country.

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