Introducing Rationalizations #25B, and #25C: “I’m Just Doing My Job,” and “It’s Policy!”

Here are two  more rationalizations for the list, bringing the grand total to 89.

#25B  The Nuremberg Rationalization, or “I’m Just Doing My Job!”

Amazing: 87 previous rationalizations described, and the word “Nuremberg” did not appear once.

Rationalization # 25. The Coercion Myth, covers the excuse for unethical conduct that the actor “had no choice,” and # 25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” posits that duty excuses wrongdoing. #25 B follows the theme of denying free will by using the fact of employment to justify or excuse unethical conduct. It embodies the defense of the Nazi officers at the Nuremberg Trials that because they followed the orders of others, they were simply agents, and their horrible crimes against humanity should not bring them punishment…after all, they had no choice. It was their duty to follow orders, because that was their job.

We all need jobs, but we all have a choice whether to remain in a job or not. Sometimes it’s not a very attractive choice, and even a frightening one, in which choosing the ethical course requires personal sacrifice. Nonetheless, when a job requires one to commit unethical acts, the choice is this: quit the job and refuse to perform the unethical act, or commit the unethical act, following orders but accepting the responsibility, accountability and consequences of doing so.

For inspiration, we need look no further than the first admittee to the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the amazing Henri Salmide.

From the Ethics Alarms post:

In 1944, Salmide was a German officer in the 159th Infantry Division of the German army occupying the French city of Bordeaux, the largest seaport on the west coast. It was August 19, and Allied Forces were spreading out from the beaches at Normandy and taking control of the war. An order came from Berlin calling on the Division to destroy the entire seven miles of port infrastructure before abandoning the city. The port’s destruction was scheduled to occur within a week.

“It fell to me,” Salmide recounted in an interview, because, as head of the bomb disposal unity, he had expertise with explosives. “I couldn’t do it. I knew the war was lost. What was the point of this, I asked myself. People would die and suffer, and the war would still be lost by Germany.”

On  August 22, he filled a bunker at the docks with detonators, plungers, timers and other hardware needed for the planned demolition. But instead of using them to destroy Bordeaux, Salmide blew them up with dynamite, in a terrifying explosion. “It was all I could do,” he said later.

French historians estimate he saved 3,500 lives by refusing to carry out his orders. About fifty Nazi soldiers died in the blast instead. “I could not accept that the port of Bordeaux be wantonly destroyed when the war was clearly lost,” he explained in an interview. “I acted according to my Christian conscience.”

Salmide deserted, and was hunted by both the Gestapo and the French authorities. He hid with the French Resistance for the remainder of the war. Then Salmide adopted a French name, married a local woman, became citizen of France, and raised his family in the very city his conscience had rescued. The Germans regarded him as a traitor, and even the French were reluctant to give him the recognition he deserved, according to his wife.

“No one wanted to admit that he had done it,” Mrs. Salmide told the New York Times. “If he had been French, it would have been easier for him.”  It was not until 2000 that the French government finally awarded him the French Legion of Honor,* and the Bordeaux City Hall said this week that it wants to erect a memorial to Salmide.

His best and most lasting memorial, however, would be for his story to be known around the world, and taught in every school, of every nation. For when any of us finds ourselves being required to act under authority to accomplish unjust and cruel ends—to blindly do our job, knowing that the results would harm others unjustly, and we wonder if it is fair for us to be accountable for our actions when, in reality, we seem to have no choice, we should recall Henri Salmide. His moment of courage should remind us that we are always accountable, and we always have a choice, provided we also have the ethics and courage to take it.

#25 C  The Bureaucrat’s Shrug, or “It’s policy!”

“It’s policy!” is another route to blind agency of wrongdoing. The fact that something is policy doesn’t make it right, sensible, fair or excusable. No doubt, a low-level subordinate may have no control over policy, and perhaps the unjust or idiotic policy may not rise to the level that the individual havi9ng to enact it is ethically obligated to quit or defy their superiors. Again, however, if they have made the choice to administer a wrongful policy, they cannot claim blamelessness.

Therefore, when you are told that a company or bureaucracy is going to mistreat you because of “policy,” and the messenger as well as the agent of your mistreatment claims that you have no reason to make life miserable, since he or she doesn’t make the policy involved, go ahead focus your anger and defiance directly on the only individual on the scene to complain to. Tell them Ethics Alarms says its OK.  When unethical policies become unpleasant enough to follow, the choice to “do the job” and “follow orders” becomes difficult, and perhaps even untenable.

That’s when policies change.

A relevant moment from “Seinfeld”:

56 Comments

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56 responses to “Introducing Rationalizations #25B, and #25C: “I’m Just Doing My Job,” and “It’s Policy!”

  1. Wayne

    The story about Henri Salmide is truly an inspiring one. There were a few in the German Army that defied Hitler like the General who refused to destroy Paris despite Hitler’s express orders that he do so. I believe that the film “Is Paris Burning” covered his decision to save the city.

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      The same reason we don’t know about a lot of the inspiring heroes and darkest villains: those whose job it is to teach history don’t do the research, and those who have to learn it put it down as soon as they pass the test. Thomas Hudner, one of the first aviators who flew in an integrated armed forces and who deliberately crashed his plane to try to save his black wingman, just died. We hear nothing about him.

      Just for the record, the officer who refused to destroy Paris was Dietrich von Choltitz, who we hear nothing about either, just as we hear nothing of Charles Schulze, no not the author, but the British officer who commanded that the center of the city of Cork be burned during the bitter Anglo-Irish war, and that the fire service be prevented from attending to the blaze. Unfortunately there’s just more history than there’s time to get to know, particularly when it’s squeezed in between the three Rs, and more so when it’s deemed more important to teach the three Vs. villains, vileness, and victimhood.

  2. charlesgreen

    Brilliant. I did not know the Salmide story, how very powerful.
    And bingo (again) for Seinfeld.

  3. La Sylphide

    Having traveled to Eastern Europe this summer, and having visited 6 concentration camps and numerous museums dedicated to the subject; I came away with a better understanding, and no small amount of despair, of how the Holocaust did and can happen. One of the best authorities on the subject is Laurence Rees and his book, titled simply, “The Holocaust” is both a comprehensive and approachable book on the subject.

    After reading Rees’s tome, and understanding the ease with which the Holocaust became a reality, it is even more mind boggling that people such as Salmide had the courage and wherewithal to do what they did.

  4. “His best and most lasting memorial, however, would be for his story to be known around the world, and taught in every school, of every nation. For when any of us finds ourselves being required to act under authority to accomplish unjust and cruel ends—to blindly do our job, knowing that the results would harm others unjustly, and we wonder if it is fair for us to be accountable for our actions when, in reality, we seem to have no choice, we should recall Henri Salmide. His moment of courage should remind us that we are always accountable, and we always have a choice, provided we also have the ethics and courage to take it.”

    Finest American hypocricy. Pretty easy to see through. It is all part of a sham however, and it is that sham that needs to be seen through. How would The Patriotic American adjudicate, say, a common soldier who might have diverted the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima? Hero? Villain?

    Why how dare you ask the question! Beyond any shadow of any possible doubt it would have been treachery because, as we all know, this act was justified. Literally God stands behind American triumphalism at every historical turn. Probably a list could be made of military and other situations in which a disruption might have been ethically defensible, except that no such list will be considered, and no profound questions about American intentions will be proposed. To do so is non-patriotic. But it is deeper than mere patriotism.

    When one is in the grip of patriotic reveries one is, IMHO, caught in sentimental trap where ‘profound analysis’ canot take place.

    My theory is that WWll and certain patriotic mythologies associated with it, and now established at fundamental psychological levels, form a viewstructure and ‘world-picture’ that are self-deceiving in many different ways. In order to understand how that is so, and why it is so, one has to be willing to subject oneself to a deep revision of the events. This takes time —- years —- and involves one in psychological pain because certain myth accentuations and myth-exaggerations have been established at a very personal level and the very ‘self’ has been constructed around them. In order to crack the mythologies, certain aspects of the ‘self’ have to be confronded: a profoundly distressing eventuality.

    Yet, when a fuller picture of the truth emerges (I suggest) —- and this would involve a far greater understanding of ‘complicity’ among all parties specifically touching on the 2 late European wars —- I think a different historical picture emerges and through it one sees better the world.

    It is perhaps true that reading Ree’s tome, and any of such tomes that are available, will cement and bolster certain metaphysical grasp of Our Present, indeed they will. That is the function they serve! But there is another and I suggest a deeper analysis, far more demanding on the ‘self’, that provides insight into how our entire postwar world has come into existence and is upheld by certain mythic structures. Those mythic structures, seen as ‘normal and good’ and also ‘patriotic’ are now leading to a world-wide movement to inhibit free-thinking and to discourage critical relationship to the issues of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Out of this comes the hysterical Social Justice Warrior, the socialistic-communistic historical actor, and a further rush into blind patriotic patriotism which has its eyes glued to specific images of Ontological Malevolence.

    This can be seen through. It can be seen and described. And there is a movement afoot that is beginning to do just exactly that.

    • Your question would have more impact if the circumstances were even remotely parallel. Hiroshima was an important tactic to win and end the war while saving American and Allied lives (like my father, who was training at the time for a Japan invasion.) What Salmide stopped was just spiteful destruction by a defeated power.

      That said, the position of the military, as embodied in Nuremberg, has always been ethically incoherent. Soldiers are required to follow orders except when the orders are illegal, except that soldiers don’t really have the authority to decide which orders are illegal. War crime trials are inherently hypocritical; the question is whether they are nonetheless necessary to maintain societal values. I come out on the yes side, but not without reservations.

      • I kind of agree, I think this German officer was a traitor and he should have done his job. Scorched Earth was a legitimate warfare tactic and an important way to deny your enemy support, not “just for spite.” We have the benefit of hindsight now to say that the war was lost but how did this guy know that at the time? How many strategic war briefings was he a part of? Maybe he could have stymied the allied advance and given his side more time to mount a defense. Who knows? It’s not like he was blowing up an orphanage. This seems like a clear case of dereliction of duty. If you’re not willing to blow up seaports, don’t join the military. Object to conscription, allow yourself to be jailed, stand up for your principles, etc. But don’t join up and then swear oaths of service you don’t plan to honor.

        Basically the German army had a morale problem, whether it was true or not, it convinced an officer to abandon his duty. His actions appear to me as pure opportunism; he wanted to be part of the winning side and he took it. That should be viewed historically as a win for Allied propaganda actions, not heroism on his part.

        • That’s a real stretch. Salmide said that the war was lost, everyone knew it, everyone knew that Hitler just wanted to take down as much with him as he could. It was the epitome of an illegal order. If Hitler had said, “Rape all the girls and eat all the men,” was that something Salmide should have just shrugged and done? There are no absolutes—the trick in ethics is to know when the ethical course is breaking the rules it is usually ethical to obey..

    • valkygrrl

      Literally God stands behind American triumphalism at every historical turn.

      Gott mit uns

      • Steve-O-in-NJ

        The Germans were saying that LONG before the Nazis, in fact it dates back to the days of the Teutonic Knights battling the pagan Slavs. The liberal, secular version is “we’re on the right side of history.”

        • valkygrrl

          I am aware of the history.

          • Steve-O-in-NJ

            Rather than explode, I’m going to ask you, civilizedly, then why, knowing the history, did you quote it right after Alizia’s comment that God supposedly stands with America? If it’s to compare America to Nazi Germany you are dead wrong and you know it.

            • Isaac

              I was going to point out valkygrrls’s lazy use of a common but completely false narrative, but you beat me to it. Yes, the phrase “God with us” has literally nothing to do with the Nazis other than that they didn’t scrub it from immediately their national seals and whatnot.

              Bonus fail-points to valky for not being aware of Hitler’s entire aversion to Christianity, to such an extreme that he had a 13-point plan to “reform” it into a Religion of State (as he put it, “the state must be the absolute master”) in which crosses would be replaced with swastikas, and Bibles would be abolished or rewritten.

              • The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new
                _________________

                I do not seem to earn many points here for delving into the inner dimension of certain questions, like this one, which are dealt with glossarially and with a definite prejudice. Why would I then stick out my own neck when by asserting another point of view, or making a suggestion that there are interesting and important inner-aspects to a given question, when the result seems always to be 1) the silence of stones, 2) condemnation, 3) calumny?

                Right now, for example, as I write this, I have twice already thought of just erasing it. So as Samuel Beckett wrote:

                You must go on.
                I can’t go on.
                I’ll go on.

                Every statement made about this figure Adolf Hitler carries with it, as a concomitant, whole containers of projected gunk. The name itself evokes in the mind so many images and distortions that, it has occurred to me, it has become impossible to even consider him, or the movement he headed, and the currents of ideas that were flowing at that time. He is a metaphysical thought-Satan. (And as history crawls forward, barking & spitting, he remains one of the most Googled historical figures, if my source on this is correct. Why?)

                I can employ for economy just one example in this context. It is from a atheistic site that is anti-Christian, or to be fair ‘highly Christian critical’, which describes some convincing detail that ‘Hitler Was a Christian’.

                [http://churchandstate.org.uk/2016/04/hitler-was-a-christian/]

                In many ways the thrust of this site operates against some of my own ‘cherished notions’ and yet I must refer to it if only because it deals with very real, and very important, elements of truth that cannot be dismissed simply because someone, as Isaac here, wants to employ tainted reductionism to make some point in an ideological forum-battle. It makes no sense to me: why keep things at a superficial level? How could the ethical dimension really be considered if one is dealing with superficial glosses? What are you attempting to obtain?

                If one reads Houston Chamberlain —- a must-read to understand the depth of counter-Jewish and anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic thought, as well as the foundation of National Socialist thought and also of European reactionaty ideology [fascism] —- and any number of different historican and philosophers or ideologues who were writing at that time, not the least being Martin Heidegger, one can easily grasp a certain blending of the Christian and Catholic world-picture as it meets a reanimation of what can be called ‘the German spirit’. See for example Hans FK Gunther’s ‘The Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans’: it is actually a very interesting book and quite enlightening, but then so is Houston Chamberlain, though today the mention of his name is as a curse.

                How could anyone know anything about these issues and topics if they did not examine the material and consider the texts themselves? How could anyone feel that their discourse has validity and standing if there is no research standing behind it?

                To understand Germanic National Socialism and also European fascism one must understand a whole sweep of time and a whole sweep of culture. To understand our present one must understand a whole sweep of time and a whole sweep of culture. To understand why it is that people resort to the perception that time is circular and we have now circled back round and face a whole set of issues and problems which had never really been resolved, requires a vision of a grand sweep of culture.

                And if one wishes to understand the scary and dangerous currents of idea that are now resurfacing and which right now are having effect and influencing events, I think it is fair to say that one must raise one’s head a little bit from a patterned and determined interpretation of culture and history to be able to see and describe things with greater accuracy. If one cannot be accurate, one cannot ever propose any alternative, nor meliorate any circumstance.

                The issue right now in Europe and among those of European descent has everything to do with IDENTITY. In order to understand what this means one must at the same time examine everything that comes out against this identity and identification. This is a battle, and a very serious one, and I cannot assume that any one of you is blind to this. But *you* seem to see through a dark glass and one colored by intellectual spooks and goblins. If *you* want to face the fact, you will come to see and understand that the recovery of ‘identity’ within the European cultures will amount to a historical revisionism and a turning against *the present* in its narrative forms. Thousands and millions have begun this recovery process.

                The inner dimension of this issue, this question, this historical and also civilizational problem, if it is clearly put out on the table for examination, is frighteningly intense, meanigful, powerful and on-going and super-interesting. I would suggest that there are forces, interest and powers that do everything they can to keep the core issues from coming into focus, from being seen and understood, and certainly from being talked about rationally and intellectually.

                And this circles back round to the Interwar period and a REACTION that arose out of the people, out of the social body, against certain social and economic forces which now are described as ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘globalism’ and ‘liberalism’.

                In order to see this present, and in order to understand this reaction, one must study it without prejudice to the degree that that is possible.

                So, to understand the National Socialist’s relationship to religion, to paganism, and to Christianity and Catholicism, one has to approach it fairly and really make the effort to see it as it was, not as one wishes to portray it (always in a horrible, if inaccurate, light).

                [This is post #97 in a long series that should have simply been erased].

      • Valkygrrl wrote: Gott Mit Uns

        God’s Mittens? Just kidding…

        I took your comment differently than Steve did. I think you are pointing out the problematic nature of any ‘God is on our side’ type declaration. I wish you would fill out your ideas more though because … I am left guessing about what you are ultimately trying to say.

        I have a few thoughts about the idea that ‘God is with us’. Obviously, it is Biblical and obviously it is Pauline: Si Deus pro nobis, quis contra nos?

        However, I would imagine (a guess) that you are likely an atheist. So any reference to ‘God’ is reference to what you understand to be a fiction. That would mean that you could never refer to the concept in any serious way, except to critique it.

        I think about the Seventh Epistle of Plato in which he declares that the conquering of a corrupt government, and the installing of a new and better government, is in accord with proper philosophical motives, and thus with ‘God’ in the sense that the Greek philosophers use the term. If I am not mistaken, the Roman Empire and the Catholic powers conquered pagan Europe and made Europe Europe through this effort. That is an interesting meditation when we think on where we all, or most of us, come from and what we owe to Europe.

        We are, and we will be, in one way or another, involved in a battle through which we enforce our will: on ourself, on people around us (our children), and on the world. The question obviously is in accord with what principles?

        Clearly, in the WWll conflict, the established narrative puts forward the ‘savior’ role for the US, and in victory it was as if it were God’s battle won. All the right ‘principles’ were seen as triumphing. Thus ‘God was on our side’. And a whole world came to be defined, and a whole order of understanding of civilizational struggle, through this emblem or this diagram. The emblem still functions. Americanism and ‘the Americanopolis’ are defined through this —- quite specifiic, quite simplistic —- model of reality that mediates perception. And always, off to one side, or underneath, or even overarching the entire question is the terrifying ‘Nazi’. Thus, America becomes the Noble Kingdom fighting against the Dark Lord in an epic battle between light and dark. And we can easily call to mind who are the Sacrificial Victims.

        The way I see things it is through these essentially metaphysical descriptions that we have ordered our perceptions. But the ‘real truth’ is quite different. I can refer to an even clearer example: the reconquest of Israel after the WWll. It is seen and understood in Biblical terms: the return of the exiled people, brought out of captivity by an historical God. But in fact it was simply a conquest, and a very brutal and cynical one, and it continues today, with extraordinary suffering for its victims.

        In order to see ‘reality’ one has to cut through the metaphysical mystification.

        And where is God (or God or ‘god’) in this process of ‘cutting through metaphysical mystification’? Isn’t that the key question?

        • valkygrrl

          You complain that that the story of World War II is the story of Americans claiming God is on our side. You do this despite no one here making that claim. It’s something that you just one day decided to be true, it fits your preferred narrative.

          At the same time you champion the ones who wore uniforms that proclaimed Gott mit uns. T’were you to complain about people claiming that God is on their side, you’d have to complain about Nazis and we know you’ll never do that.

          Nazis, you know, the ones responsible for this.

          Which you will no doubt choose to disregard in favor of your own alternate facts, whatever ones some Nazi apologist has made up to justify their own love of fascism. You’ve a strange attachment to post-modernism, but you’re not going to rewrite history by claiming poor emo Hitler was just so misunderstood and picked on by the American jocks for being sensitive and artistic.

          • valkygrrl wrote: “You complain that that the story of World War II is the story of Americans claiming God is on our side.

            I don’t think I ‘complained’. If I had to rephrase what I said, or what I think, it is that the entire history is tremendously more complex. But I definitely do understand America and Americans to have been raised up within a certain ‘narrative’ about America’s role in history. This much I am completely certain of. Wrote Robert Bellah: “In the beginning, and to some extent ever since, Americans have interpreted their history as having religious meaning. They saw themselves as being a ‘people’ in the classical and biblical sense of the word. They hoped they were a people of God”. (Robert Bellah in ‘The Broken Covenant’. See especially the first chapter: “America’s Myth of Origin”).

            I merely notice that this ‘narrative’ is there, operating and functioning. I think that in the present juncture of history, with its grave dangers, that to be able to understand the present requires a different way of looking at, and interpreting, America. And that is why I refer to the term (Pierre Krebs wrote it first I think) of ‘the Americanopolis. It is not intended to be a wicked or mean-spirited term.

            You do this despite no one here making that claim. It’s something that you just one day decided to be true, it fits your preferred narrative.

            Except that I do think ‘the claim is made’ but it is not stated in completely stark terms. It is an allusion which resides, if you will, in the background.

            It is not that I have a ‘preferred narrative’ but rather that some of the ideas that I talk about are part of my present perceptual model.

            At the same time you champion the ones who wore uniforms that proclaimed Gott mit uns. T’were you to complain about people claiming that God is on their side, you’d have to complain about Nazis and we know you’ll never do that.

            First, I have never championed anyone. But I do understand that you have assumed, because of various controversial things I have said, because of my controversial stance on certain things, that I must surely be ‘championing’ the National Socialist cause. That is not an accurate description though. And to understand what I think (in these specific senses) always gets me into hot waters because to do so is to challenge fixed ideas that some people have. You seem to be one.

            I have described myself —- and I am indeed —- a revisionist. One who looks again. One who reconsiders. One who is open to a revision of ‘what happened’ and more importantly why.

            Is this an evil endeavor? I do not think so. I would describe it in opposite terms.

            My position about ‘fascism’ is also quite different. I said this (I think) long ago and right at the beginning. The reactionary philosophies and the political and social positions, as well as the religious reactive positions, of the Interwar period need to be understood. The tern ‘fascist’ has come to be used as a far too-general condemning term. It means something you, or someone, just doesn’t like.

            And to open up the subject to discussion, which is a good and necessary thing to do IMO, requires cutting through so many protective layers that have been constructed and established. There is a great deal of highly merited idea-material in Interwar reactionary philosophy.

            Once again, now in our present, we are in a sort of postmodern Interwar period. You are surely sensitive to what this means for the diatribes brought out against the MOT as I am. I just happen to take a very different position in regard to it all.

            I do admit to *using*, as it were, the reaction I get to further elucidate my ideas.

          • I hope you will excuse two strokes of irreverence (:::hangs head in shame:::)

            One is that the narrator of the video reminds me of the voice of the R2D2 robot in the film ‘Interstellar’ (Christopher Nolan). Too matter-of-fact for my taste.

            The other is perhaps worse:

    • charlesgreen

      Alizia, ah ha ha you’ve uncorked a firestorm on this one, I predict!

      Your sure-to-provoke-reaction example notwithstanding, you do raise a very good point: how to interpret justice apart from “history is written by the winners.” As Jack notes, it’s a thorny one as reflected in war tribunals.
      I look forward to the dialogue on this one.

    • Neil Dorr

      Alizia:

      “Why how dare you ask the question! Beyond any shadow of any possible doubt it would have been treachery because, as we all know, this act was justified.”

      Then how do you rationalize the continual back and forth about whether the bomb should have been dropped? Do you not remember the controversy surrounding the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian 20 years ago, or the controversy last year during Obama’s visit to Hiroshima? The question is asked ALL the time and will likely continue to be for decades.

      Very few still cling tightly to the Gospel of America the way they might have even a generation ago, and even that was mostly a lie. American society no longer resembles Norman Rockwell and I think few Americans, if they’re honest, believe it ever did.

      • “Then how do you rationalize the continual back and forth about whether the bomb should have been dropped?”

        Pure ignorance. The bomb should have been dropped and had to be dropped, and any argument to the contrary is revisionist and hindsight, as well as anti-nuke, pacifist propaganda.

        Whether the second bomb should have been dropped is a legitimate question.

        • Neil Dorr

          Jack,

          “Pure ignorance.”

          Which has what to do with anything I said? I wasn’t weighing in either way, only pointing out that Alizia’s claim that “to question American exceptionalism is akin to heresy” point isn’t true. Dissent has been part of American political culture since the beginning.

          “The bomb should have been dropped and had to be dropped …”

          Only the Sith speak in absolutes, Jack. Unless God himself gave you that revelation, it’s conjecture and opinion (after all, no one — literally NO ONE —
          knows all the fact) A correct one, perhaps, but an opinion nonetheless.

          • It was the answer to your question. I’d say the answer to someone’s question is always relevant to what he said.

            Your last paragraph is classic sophistry of the “you have your truth and I have mine” variety, or as I like to say, “Ptui.” All that matters is the conditions that were known at the time, and the reasonable judgments of those closest to the situation. By their assessment and everyone who has honestly analyzed them, the alternative to the bomb was risking a million allied deaths and casualties. End of controversy. What “would” or “might” have happened is irrelevant. You are slipping into consequentialism.

            • Neil Dorr

              Other rhetorical questions include:

              How many roads must a man walk down?
              Who is John Galt
              What hath God wrought?

              I just so happen to agree with you about use of the bomb. Plus, it gave us one of the most iconic images of the 20th century: the mushroom cloud. However, you speak in absolute fairly often, seeming to disregard the fact that people do hold other truths, and you won’t convince them of yours with “mine is right, though”.

              Similar to that Mao debate (with the Chinese man from the seminar you taught), people deluded to that degree had something ingrained since childhood and they won’t suddenly unlearn it because a stranger tells them they all the people that mattered in their world lied to them. Would you have swayed Tsutomo Yamguchi with “Yes, but the bomb saved a lot of white people and Japan was kind of acting like a dick anyways.”? That’s not what you said, but that’s how it comes off to their ears, because they never felt validated.

              • People who are wrong often can’t be persuaded, because they are invested in a false version of reality. O’Neill wrote a play about that.

              • Japan WAS acting like a dick… a genocidal, racist, world conquering one. I have no qualms with the decision to stop the war by dropping the bomb.

                The war was over. Japan had no metals with which to fight; they could not hope to touch the high flying Superfortress bombers in their skies, food shortages were ramping up, and their economy was devastated. Yet those in charge would rather cause the likely deaths of many times those lost to the two bombs we DID drop than surrender. We had to show them that THEY THEMSELVES could die a fiery death with no more warning than a routine air raid siren. My contention is that dropping the bomb saved far more Japanese lives that not, and thus was the ethical thing to do for Japan.

                Fun fact: Why did we not bomb Tokyo, killing most of the remaining Japanese military command structure and, incidentally, their Emperor? WE needed those folks alive to announce the surrender, since their country was gripped by a religious death cult that made suicide a good thing.

          • Isaac

            “Only the Sith speak in absolutes, Jack.”

            Just popping in to remark that the above quote is itself an absolutist statement. Also, even if it wasn’t, it would still be really dumb. Anyone who can’t speak in absolutes at least some of the time, I wouldn’t buy a used car from.

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      Why don’t you ask George Zabelka? (apart from the fact that he passed away) He was the Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group and after the war tried to get himself a place among the great moralizers by saying “oh, what a terrible thing they did,” in endless permutations. His moralizing might have had more value if he’d disassociated himself during the war, maybe even tried to go public with what they were doing. He didn’t.

      Not all destructive acts are the same morally, Alizia. Although they may look the same, their moral color depends on a lot of things – motivation, expected goals, and so on. It’s easy to say that the Hamburg and Dresden raids were wrong because they hit civilian targets and flattened three times the size of the area flattened in London by the Blitz. However, they didn’t happen in a vacuum. The fact that the Blitz was an aggressive attack by a tyranny upon a free nation while the raids were in retaliation for that series of attacks and an attempt to stop tyranny has to figure into your analysis. It’s easy to say the Crusades were a horrible attack by barbarian Europeans on the much more civilized Middle East, but that would ignore the three centuries contact between Muslim and Christian that had not gone so well.

      Historical events should never be taken out of reasonable context.

      • I think I do reasonably well understand that ‘not all destructive acts are the same morally’. If anything at all, I am interested in exploring the unexplored nuances of these often black-and-white giant historical questions.

        George Zabelka’s story reminds me a little of another figure whose name I forgot. He was a general during many of the US invasions and occupations of Central America (in the early part of the 20th century), specifically in Nicaragua as I remember. He was a star general, very accomplished. At at a certain point he did an ‘about face’ and thereafter described these wars and occupations as wars undertaken and carried out by rich men and their interests. He then turned his back on all that he had been working for. He named the various large corporations of the day. Meaning, he saw through the PR narrative to the essence of the truth or at least the truth as he saw it.

        Through mental and perceptual nuance, on is able to see and analyze mixed-intentions. I have to admit that my understanding and my perceptions of politics and power has been tinged through my reading of Machiavelli.

        I go even understand the general battle against the National Socialist regime as being a proper and a moral fight. At least I think so. I admit to having wondered what might have happened if the NSs would have been helped to conquer and destroy, perhaps even ‘utterly’, the Soviet Union. But I do consider myself politically naive as well.

        As to Islam, I have a more militant sense. It should be ethnically cleansed out of Europe. I could make a pretty decent ‘God would be on our side’ case for that one. But what seems to be happening is that wars against Islamic countries are provoked and they bring such destruction and breakdown that it sets hordes of people in movement and they ‘invade’ Europe. Is that any way to combat Islam? It seems to be having an opposite result!

        In any case, I am attempting to *see realistically* the world. Maybe one should give up the endeavor? Maybe it will only result in anguish?

        • Steve-O-in-NJ

          The man you speak of was named Smedley Butler, son of anti-Catholic congressman Thomas Butler. He was a 2-time Medal of Honor winner from the USMC who “made his bones” fighting in Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, and other areas in Central and South America as they were starting to emerge from the messy upheavals of breaking with Spain, finding their own way, and sometimes doing terrible damage to each other (cf. the War of the Triple Alliance).

          He was notably, however, passed by for a combat command in WWI and passed by for the position of Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1930 when the then-Commandant died due to unreliability, some borderline fascist behavior during some time as Philadelphia’s Director of Public Safety, and a complete inability to keep his mouth shut on controversial issues. A failed Senate campaign and a disastrous involvement in the “Bonus Army” proto-Occupy movement led him to go far left politically, write a book entitled “War Is A Racket” in which he decried most of his previous career as just being muscle for big business, engage in several self-promotional lectures promoting the book, and appear before Congress alleging a plot by big business to overthrow the elected government of FDR. Newspapers of the time proclaimed his allegations a gigantic hoax, He fell into obscurity after that, dying in 1940 of what was probably gastrointestinal cancer.

          Defector from decadence, bitter loser who turned and burned, or early conspiracy theorist? I’m leaning toward a mixture of the latter two. I believe he was a high achiever who got a little too full of himself, like MacArthur later did. When he stumbled and later hit a career wall at least partially of his own making, he couldn’t stand the thought of fading into irrelevance, saw an opportunity to stay relevant in the rising anti-business sentiment, and tapped into it, thinking his distinguished record would protect him from criticism. Unfortunately, history doesn’t like and most people don’t like turncoats, and he is now remembered only by the far left, who every so often trot his name out when they need to appeal to authority, when he is remembered at all.

          • I did some research yesterday on Butler. What a thoroughly unlikely figure, at least on one level! But then on another he really seems to have ‘American mettle’.

            But I noticed things about your description of him that I would focus on first. But I do not mean this in any offending manner: your piece is an example of the use of rhetorical shading. (Let me point out what I mean and then I will offer my own opinion of Smedley.)

            There is a little bit of pre-shading with the mention of the father as ‘anti-Catholic’ I think. It could have importance, I guess, but it is left sort of hanging there. It does indicate something a little unsavory though.

            By mentioning that these Central American republics were in difficulty, and then mentioning that they had done ‘terrible damage’ to each other, could imply that the intervention of the US was necessary, even humanitarian. Something an experienced older brother would do though he really did not want to. Like breaking up a fight. (I have seen editorial cartoons from the period which said as much, in dramatized cartoon form).

            One might gather from what you say that this extension of military power, this invasion and occupation, was in some way part of a democratizing mission. But to say that would not only miss an important point, it would evade a very critical issue: the US was set up as a very special form of Constitutional Republic and the notion of a tyrranical state power invading one of its own brother states (within the republic), and any sort of military-occupation-style government, should be seen as anathema to the principles of the US Republic. Hard to defend in any case.

            And at the time of the Spanish-Ameeican War and the Phillipine invasion and occupation they were critiqued in these terms. Further point: while it is quite possible that the invading administrative force may have ruled better, may have held things together better, and even may have resulted in various positive gains for the conquered, that is not the point. The point has to do with the corruption that results when a Constitutional Republic, high-minded and idealistic, breaks faith with itself and, lying about its motives, sets up an occupational government. It cannot be helped that the corruption self-infects.

            The second paragraph moves into more complex rhetorical territory. There, it is implied that he became rancorous because he was passed up for promotion. This casts aspersions on the man’s character and, indirectly, on the nature of his commitment to his moral and ethical cause. Is there no moral and ethical cause to be defended? Is not war and war-making the most critical issue?

            The part about ‘not being able to keep his mouth shut’ about controversial topics is interesting, but it also begs some questions. Under what conditions, in a Constitutional Republic such as ours, should a citizen keep his mouth closed if he or she has something important to say? The point would be that it is usually in tyrannical circumstances when the forces that would admonish one to be silent and to step out of the picture show their teetch, as it were. They always have their tactics to shut people up. We see it now in our present too, though the situation is different.

            What I am implying of course is that as the US turned a certain corner and set forth in pursuit of its imperial objectives, that in those circumstances I would imagine that a great deal of pressure was exerted to ‘keep people’s mouths closed’. But people did not keep their mouths closed! And certainly not at these historical junctures. And definitely not when it was they themselves that were to be conscripted to go there and lie in a swampy trench.

            You surely see where I am going with this. But I wish to point out that all popular opposition, and much high-minded opposition based in ‘constitutional principles’, would not have to be Marxist or Communist, but could be argued and expressed, quite strictly, through constitutional arguments. Quo warranto: by what authority did these machinations take form? By what authority were invasions undertaken? And the obvious question if you ask ‘quo warranto’ is ‘cui bono’?

            These are entirely fair questions and they are the sort of questions that not only can be asked by any member of a community or polity, but indeed must be asked. I thought we were to be taught in school not only to ask them, but how to think about them? Put another way, any power that works to stop the voicing and discussion of those matters immediately implicates itself in efforts to chill.

            There is a great deal in that paragraph that can be examined with a similar, critical eye, but I will focus on his assertion that ‘war is a racket’. I would suggest and I would establish it as a predicate almost beyond doubt that in the sense he means it war is indeed a racket. It is a business. It is a policy decision which directly involves the manufacturing industries and, as Smedley said rather forcefully, it turns many men into millionaires and those who fight the wars into fodder. One gains, the other pays the price for that gain. It is a natural result, and it will always be a predictable rsult, in a Constitutional Republic that opposition develops when the manufacturing class influences the policies to wage wars which are not defensive, but overtly offensive.

            But in order to make sense of all of this, and to test these assertions, one would have to understake a study of these various wars that began with the Spanish American War and led into the Philippine Occupation and then all the operations in the Caribbean and Central America. You would have to make some sort of case that these stemmed from ‘constitutional concerns’ and could be reconciled with constitutional principles. I do not think you could pull it off! No one can. Because they had little or nothing to do with ‘principles’ and everything to do with flexing the muscles and betting a whole series of adventures which transformed the country into a national potency. It is so far distant from what it was intended to be, and getting closer each moment to overt crisis, that we should only expect more serious crises as things fall apart.

            It is within this that I would attempt to contruct a critical position of US policy, yet only if it could be done through proper constitutional means. The point is that there certainly exists, and could exist, a starkly constitutional oppositional pole, and one that is not communistic and Marxist.

            In the first two paragraphs you set up the stage, as it were. In the final paragraph the most adamant actors come forth and they express, I suggest, where you really stand in relation to the entire question. What pure constitutional argument, what pure legal argument, would you accept as valid, upstanding, necessary and ethical? I mean, one that could stand in opposition to numerous of the wars/occupations we have mentioned here? I’d assume no one of them. But that position is quite often the standard Conservative position in America. It is not really a high-minded and principled position but a form of apologetics for the powers-that-be.

          • This is an actor reading from War Is A Racket:

      • charlesgreen

        I agree completely with Steve-O about the need to see things in context – always a good reminder. At the same time, Alizia’s point of the dangers of seeing things through the eyes of the winner is valid too.

        An easier case example for we Americans to see is provided by the British/Chinese Opium Wars.

        When I grew up, this was a footnote in the history books, but the point of the footnote was the they represented the opening up of Chinese markets to the West, and the modernization that followed.

        To this day, here is how Wikipedia describes it:
        “The Opium Wars were two wars in the mid-19th century involving Anglo-Chinese disputes over British trade in China and China’s sovereignty. The disputes included the First Opium War (1839–1842) and the Second Opium War (1856–1860). The wars and events between them weakened the Qing dynasty and forced China to trade with the other parts of the world.”

        Then, a few decades or so ago, I visited the Hong Kong national museum of Chinese history. I was shocked by the exhibit on the Opium Wars. A massively documented, clearly articulated point of view had a very different narrative.

        From the Chinese perspective, the British had an insatiable demand for silks, ceramics and tea. Yet they had nothing of interest to offer the Chinese, who had plenty of precious metals and much finer goods available in their home market. The Brits’ only salable product was opium, which they sold like any competent drug dealer – first make as many customers as possible into addicts, and when the government protests, bring violence to bear, a la the Sinaloa cartel. In this case, the violence was part mercenary, part British Navy, and they were in some ways one and the same.

        As one historian puts it:
        “…the Chinese view this as a significant historical moment: the start of a western conspiracy to destroy China with drugs and gunboats…
        ..Many earlier western commentators tried to play down opium as the casus belli, asserting instead that a clash of economic and political cultures lay behind the conflicts. They sought a moral justification for wars that were essentially about protecting an illegal, profitable drugs trade.”

        Only in the past few decades have historians in the West begun to challenge this viewpoint, doing the heavy lifting of actually sifting through Chinese documents and perspectives.

        Steve-O is right – we always need to examine the precise historical context. At the same time, Alizia is pointing out the danger of post hoc history, written all too easily from the perspective of the winner.

  5. John Billingsley

    I think we have a bit of both #25B & #25C here.
    Canada couple forced to spend Christmas apart after 70 years

    Their care home decided it could no longer take care of the husband and had to transfer him to another facility less than a week before Christmas. The couple’s daughter asked them to delay a week so her parents could spend Christmas together. The request was denied.

    A representative for the long-term care home responded, “Once a resident is beyond our level and social development has reassessed to determine their level, I have to follow the rules and regulations set by the government.

    “In fact, it’s against the law for me to not follow the rules and I could lose my licence. At this point the decision has been made and it is out of my hands.”

  6. Neil Dorr

    Jack,

    If you, or anyone else, quotes the Nazis again, I’m going to start burning books. No one in contemporary American politics is a Nazi the way Goebbels or Himmler were Nazis. Making such comparisons, therefore, belittles whatever argument follows. This is the second time in two weeks. Stop.

    This is worse than the “fake news” catchphrase that some morons still use like it means anything at this point. Can no one on either side think of anything better than hurling the same insults back and forth?

    “You’re fake news!” / “No, YOU ARE!” / “Yeah, well you’re just like the NAZIS!” / “I know you are, but what am I?” Talk about growing up …

    • Bull-Shit. The techniques of the Nazis were designed to undermine liberty and justice, and it is absolutely valid to point out when classic Nazi methodology is explicitly evoked. “If you have nothing to fear, then you need not worry about due process” is a fascist position, and everyone who hears it should have every ethics alarm sound. You are simple confusing, AGAIN< an ad hominem argument with a legitimate diagnosis. I’m not calling, nor did I call, these morons who make that argument Nazis—I’m saying that they are mouthing the dangerous and false principles that Nazi’s did, and that suggests something is seriously amiss. I compare people to Nazis when they actually behave like Nazis.

      Donald Trump was called a Nazi as a method of ad hominem attack and character assassination. When he evokes Nazi conduct, as when he suggested that all illegal immigrants could be rounded up and shipped away, that comparison is valid and should be made. The US should never behave like facsists. If people don’t know how fascists behaved, that’s going to be hard to maintain.

      Again: Bullshit. And I’ve explained why in detail here
      https://ethicsalarms.com/2014/04/15/to-hell-with-godwins-law-as-the-cynical-gop-war-on-women-strategy-officially-adopts-big-lie-tactics-who-will-have-the-integrity-to-call-it-what-it-is/

      …and here:

      https://ethicsalarms.com/2014/04/16/more-on-the-dangers-of-godwins-law/

      • Steve-O-in-NJ

        Breaking Godwin’s rule is something that should never be done lightly, that’s why it exists. That said, I have a little more faith in Jack to know when to go there and when not to, as opposed to Jim Wright’s unhinged rant about the protests in Charlottesville and how anyone who disagrees with him needs a kick in their yellow teeth and a punch in the throat.

      • Neil Dorr

        Jack,

        You brought up Godwin’s law, not me. It’s not that doing so is taboo, merely evidence of a weak mind. You’re quoting from such an obvious example of “evil” that whatever your original point with is lost. Whenevef Hitler is invoked all anyone hears is “bad guys.” It’s not different than your silly insistence to keep using the term “fake news;” it means everything you want it to to people who agree and gibberish to anyone else.

        If you’re fine only breaching to an increasingly-limited choir, be my guest. But, you’re not winning arguments, you’re just encouraging more people to stop paying attention.

  7. The company policy one really bugs me. Reminds me of this old story:

    http://www.changefactory.com.au/our-thinking/articles/company-policy-no-bananas/

    “Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

    Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

    As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

    After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result; all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

    Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

    To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

    After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

    Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

    Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

    After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

    Why not?

    Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

    And that’s how company policy begins …”

  8. Indeed.

    That is why the oath of enlistment specifies obedience to lawful orders.

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