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.