Jeanette Rankin, The Pearl Harbor Ethics Dunce

This post is a day late, I guess. A friend on Facebook posted the headline above, bringing the episode back to me.

Jeanette Rankin (1880-1973) is a feminist icon, and with good reason. She was the first woman to be elected to Congress (From Montana), even before women were  able to vote under the Constitution. [She also played a pivotal role in  the passing of the 19th Amendment, finally granting all women in the U.S. the right they should have had from the beginning. (Montana was one of the states that allowed full voting rights to woman before the 19th Amendment was passed.)

But Rankin voted against declaring war on Japan after its deadly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the only member of Congress to do so. In her case, the fact that the only woman in Congress also was the sole opposition to war was no coincidence.

As a trailblazing feminist,Rankin believed that feminism was a natural ally of pacificism. She believed that having women in power instead of men would mean fewer wars, and  less violence. By today’s standards, I would call her a bigot, and that particular brand of bigotry still lurks under the surface of the modern feminist argument that more women should be elected to positions of power just because of the inherent virtue attached to having only x-chromosomes. Continue reading

The Last Of The Nazi War Criminals

Coincidentally, just as I am completing watching the Netflix documentary “The Devil Next Door,”  another former Nazi prison guard has begun trial on charges that he was an accessory to 5,230 murders at a German concentration camp in Poland during World War II.  “The Devil Next Door” engrossingly tells the strange story of a Ukrainian immigrant named John Demjanjuk who appeared to be a model U.S. citizen, respected neighbor and beloved husband and father in Cleveland before the U.S. decided he was really a former Nazi camp guard nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible” for his sadism and brutality at the Treblinka Nazi death camp in Poland. Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and tried in Israel from 1986 to 1988 for crimes against humanity. A three judge panel convicted Demjanjuk and sentenced him to hang after a dramatic (and troubling) trial, but the former Ford auto-worker died while his  appeal was pending. Under the doctrine of abatement ab initio, he is still presumed innocent.

As I have written here before, I have many ethical problems with the concept of war crime trials, but “Ivan the Terrible” certainly tests them. Whether or not Demjanjuk  was Ivan, the Treblinka gas chamber operator was a monster even by SS standards, torturing the camp’s Jewish victims before their extermination. In the United States, I cannot imagine that that Demjanjuk would have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt: the evidence was compromised, the eye-witnesses often contradicted themselves and appeared confused (“Some were liars, some were senile, and some were liars and senile” is how Demjanjuk’s Israeli lawyer puts it on camera). The most damaging testimony against Demjanjuk was his own, and in the U.S. he never would have been allowed to testify.

Was he “Ivan”? All one can say is “probably.” The case was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, not even close to it.

At the time, it was widely believed that Demjanjuk’s would be the last Nazi war crimes trial, but now  Bruno Dey, 93,  a prison guard  in the Stutthof camp near what’s now Gdansk, Poland, is being tried in Hamburg, Germany. Continue reading

A Veteran’s Day Revelation: How Did I Not Know This About D-Day? [UPDATED]

After all these many years of reading about and watching movies and TV shows about D-Day, June 6, 1945,  I discovered how the US Navy saved the invasion and maybe the world only yesterday, thanks to stumbling upon a 2009 documentary on the Smithsonian channel.

If you recall the way the story is told in “The Longest Day” and other accounts, US troops were pinned down by horrific fire from the German defenses on Omaha beach until Gen. Norman Cota (Robert Mitchum in the movie) rallied them to move forward, and by persistence his infantry troops ultimately broke through. Yet it was US destroyers off shore that turned the tide of the battle at Omaha, an element that isn’t shown in “The Longest Day” at all.

Though it was not part of the plan, the captains of the Navy destroyers decided to come in to within 800 yards of the beach and use their big guns at (for them) point blank range to pound the German artillery, machine gun nests and sharpshooters. The barrage essentially wiped them out, allowing Cota’s troops to get up and over without being slaughtered. I’ve never seen that explained or depicted in any film, and according to the Smthsonian’s video, apparently was part of the story that had been inexplicably neglected. No monument to the US Navy commemorating its contributions on 6/6/44 was erected at Normandy until 2009.

Here’s the relevant part of account from the  Naval History website on “Operation Neptune,” the Navy counterpart to Operation Overlord: Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Open Forum, And An Idea….,” B-17 Crash Thread

The first Comment of the Day to arise from the recent Open Forum is on a topic that never occurred to me before: one more indicia of how well readers here respond to the challenge of keeping the blog vital when I am called away. Here’s a summary from the AP:

“…a deadly crash in Connecticut this week of [a] B-17 has cast a pall over the band of brothers — and sisters — who enjoy riding in vintage planes and raised questions of whether machinery over 70 years old should be flying passengers.

The propeller-driven 1945 bomber went down at the Hartford airport on Wednesday, killing seven of the 13 people aboard, after the pilot reported engine trouble on takeoff. The cause of the fiery wreck is under investigation.

Arthur Alan Wolk, a lawyer who specializes in crash litigation in Philadelphia, said Friday that the accident shows the risks associated with flying old planes: They break. He said the rules for operating vintage aircraft are stringent, but he questioned whether compliance and training are adequate.

“The engines are old with no new parts being manufactured for decades,” he wrote in a blog post. “Even in service these aircraft needed the resources of a government to keep them flying. The aircraft and engines were never intended to last this long so intense maintenance and inspections are vital to continued safety.”

Frequent commenter Other Bill raised the issue, writing in part,

Ten or fifteen Christmases ago, I took my son and son-in-law on a one hour flight in a B-17 out of Falcon Field in Mes, Arizona. It was mind-boggling in so many ways. Incredibly crude and rickety. I can’t imagine flying in it at altitude for twelve hours, never mind enemy fighters and flak. Was it responsible to put my son and son in law at such risk in a plane built in a hurry to last for twenty five missions sixty or seventy years, an entire lifetime, after its construction? Should all warbirds be grounded and placed on static display? Seeing them fly brings tears to my eyes, but is the risk worth it?

His musings sparked this Comment of the Day from Steve O in NJ:

Hmmmm. I guess you have to measure the number of warbirds flying versus the number of accidents and the number of fatal accidents. Don’t forget, the FAA has some very stringent rules in place as to what standards an aircraft, especially an antique, needs to meet before it is allowed to fly. Flying is by nature risky, even with modern equipment.

Over the years 27 of the 261 pilots who have passed through the Blue Angels have been killed in crashes or other accidents, roughly 10%. So every man (no female demo pilots on that team yet, although the USAF Thunderbirds have had at least 2) who suits up with that team has a 1 in 10 chance of dying, statistically. Does that mean we should ground them? Italy’s Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) demo team had a disastrous crash in 1988 that killed 3 pilots and 67 spectators. They’re still flying (saw them myself last year) and no one talks about disbanding them.

Warbird flying is more so, because of the fact you are dealing with very old aircraft and crude equipment by today’s standards. However, those who fly them accept the risk. The same goes for show flying, particularly with these aircraft so small you are almost wearing them rather than piloting them. I have to add that in 2016 the American Airpower Museum’s P-47 “Jacky’s Revenge” suffered engine failure during a promotional flight over the Hudson, crashed, and sank, drowning the pilot. The remaining AAM pilots and aircraft continue to soldier on, however. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Dying Veterans Plea [Corrected]

I know my answer to this one right now, but I’m curious about everyone else, and willing to be convinced that I’m a hard-hearted meanie.

Call this one a “Good Disgraced Veteran” story, in the style of the recent spate of human interest tales designed to make us feel sorry that the law has to be enforced when those nice, noble illegal immigrants break it. In this variation, the object of sympathy is Needham Mayes, who was among the first black servicemen to be stationed at Fort Bragg following  the President Truman’s executive order desegregating the armed forces  seven years earlier. In July 1955, as a 21-year-old private, he walked into a club on the base for non-commissioned officers only.  He was quickly confronted by a sergeant; their altercation became violent, and the sergeant ended up shot and bleeding with his own gun. Mayes was arrested and led away in irons, then court-martialed. He left the Army with a dishonorable discharge.

Now in his eighties and ailing, Mayes wants his dishonorable discharge expunged so he can be buried in a national cemetery. [Notice of Correction: I erroneously wrote “Arlington National Cemetery” in the original version] His argument is that after being kicked out of the Army, he turned his life around and has been an admirable, even exemplary citizen.

In 1978, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Adelphi University, then a master’s degree. He became a social worker and therapist. He worked with organizations that fought drug abuse promoted mental health, and worked to  prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. In 2009, when  Mayes was 75, he joined the NAACP’s Civic Engagement Committee, and began working  with young men in poor, black neighborhoods, visiting homes and jails, and also seeking out anyone who would listen at large community events. All who know him and his work acknowledge that he has changed lives for the better.

“I am a rehabilitated man,” Needham  wrote in 2017, in an appeal to have his dishonorable discharge converted to an honorable one, “and I hope to have the right to be buried in a national cemetery with my comrades-in-arms.” His request was denied. Now his lawyers are again mounting an effort to have his record cleansed, assisted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Should Mayes’ dishonorable discharge be upgraded?

As I said above, I know my answer: no.

Stipulated: Needham Mayes has been a positive force in his community and a fine citizen; based on what I know, I have no difficulty concluding that he is an ethical, virtuous, admirable human being. Nothing he has done since his military discharge, however, alters in any way his conduct when he was in the military, or renders his court martial and discharge any less valid than they were in 1955.

What the Times, Gillibrand, Mayes’ supporters and Mayes himself are arguing for is akin to the Ted Kennedy fallacy, which goes like this: Yes, horny, drunken Ted may have contributed to the death of a young woman and participated in a cowardly cover-up, but he went on to be a hard-working and respected U.S. Senator, so all of that should be forgiven and forgotten. Wrong. Ethics and personal responsibility don’t work like that, and life shouldn’t.  Past misconduct isn’t erased by present good works. Its significance in assessing the character and personal achievements of an individual are certainly mitigated and even outweighed by what has come after, but the misconduct remains, and so should its just consequences.

The Times story adds irrelevant factors to its sympathy brief. Meyers is black; black soldiers were court martialed more frequently than white soldiers; he’s old and  dying; this is a dying man’s wish; and the man he shot back in 1955 says that he holds “absolutely no animosity toward Mr. Mayes,” and  is pleased to that he spent his life helping others. That’s all nice, but it changes nothing.

This is sentimental static designed to interfere with a clear analysis. Needham Mayes was discharged dishonorably after an incident that would have had the same consequences whether the soldier was black, white, or magenta.

Burial in national military cemeteries  is earned by a soldier’s service in the military, not by subsequent achievements in civilian life. My father (along with my mother) is buried in Arlington  National Cemetery because he served honorably and with distinction during World War II, not because he was wonderful husband and father. I’d love to know what my father would think about Meyers’ case: we once had an argument about whether a convicted murderer who was a decorated veteran should be buried at Arlington. My position was that if a veteran’s military record qualified him to be buried there, nothing he did subsequently short of treason should change that. My dad disagreed, and maybe he would disagree with me here as well.

Tell me what you think.

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/3/19: Lies and Ridiculous Lies

Bad day, right from the start.

An old friend, and one of my favorite people in the world, just suffered a terrible tragedy, one of those random, devastating, lightning strikes to the heart. He is much loved, and will be hearing from many, including me, once I figure out what to say. I’m always flummoxed in such situations, hating to mouth platitudes (I’m so sorry for your loss), but unable to think of anything more helpful.

1. The Washington Post factchecker is trying to be non-partisan again. I wonder how long it will last this time? He gave Cory Booker four Pinnochio’s for his statement during the last debate, “We lost the state of Michigan because everybody from Republicans to Russians were targeting the suppression of African American voters.”

That one missed the cut in the Ethics Alarms post. It is a complete lie, absolutely baseless. It is exactly as false and irresponsible as President Trump’s claim, unmoored to anything but wild speculation that widespread voter fraud cost him California. That, of course, was roundly mocked and condemned by some of the same pundits who are rooting for Booker.

Glenn Kessler explains in his article that there are absolutely no facts that support Booker’s claim. It is just made up. No data exists that indicate that Russian social media hi-jinks cost Clinton votes in Michigan, or anywhere, for that matter, much less the thousands of votes needed to flip the state. Nor does Michigan have any new measures that that would have suppressed African American voters. Indeed Clinton lost because the African American turn-out was not as strong as 2012, but that was expected, and the fall-off was approximately what was predicted. Kessler concludes, “[W]e could not find any specific examples of new laws enacted between 2012 and 2016 that could have reduced African American turnout. In fact, the Republican governor in 2012 vetoed a bill that would have required a photo ID for absentee voting.”

The worst thing  about Donald Trump, we are told, is that he habitually makes statements like Cory Booker’s. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “’Three Strikes And You’re Incompetent’ : The Wernher Von Braun Fiasco, And What It Tells Us About Journalism”

This is going to start out as a history-heavy day at Ethics Alarms, and Zoe Brain’s terrific Comment of the Day regarding Wernher von Braun, the abuse of science, and the moral compromises of war  gets it off to a smashing start.

Quick: how much do you know about Japanese Unit 731? Here’s a sample (and here’s some more background) :

Unit 731 was set up in 1938 in Japanese-occupied China with the aim of developing biological weapons. It also operated a secret research and experimental school in Shinjuku, central Tokyo. Its head was Lieutenant Shiro Ishii.The unit was supported by Japanese universities and medical schools which supplied doctors and research staff. The picture now emerging about its activities is horrifying.According to reports never officially admitted by the Japanese authorities, the unit used thousands of Chinese and other Asian civilians and wartime prisoners as human guinea pigs to breed and develop killer diseases.

Many of the prisoners, who were murdered in the name of research, were used in hideous vivisection and other medical experiments, including barbaric trials to determine the effect of frostbite on the human body.

To ease the conscience of those involved, the prisoners were referred to not as people or patients but as “Maruta”, or wooden logs. Before Japan’s surrender, the site of the experiments was completely destroyed, so that no evidence is left.

Then, the remaining 400 prisoners were shot and employees of the unit had to swear secrecy.

Special thanks is due to Zoe Brain for raising the topic of these horrific  Japanese war crimes, which have received so little publicity compared to their Nazi equivalents.

Here is her COTD on the post, “Three Strikes And You’re Incompetent” : The Wernher Von Braun Fiasco, And What It Tells Us About Journalism”:

I am a sometime Rocket Scientist. I am also a sometime senior engineer on military projects – in this context, “Defence Industry” is an unhelpful euphemism to sanitise a regretably necessary evil.

Von Braun is an object lesson. Although a member of the Nazi party, he joined to further his passion of developing rocketry. His later membership of the SS was coerced, though any man of principle would have resisted rather harder than he did.

His boss, Dornberger, who arguably had more influence on the US space program than Von Braun, was a nasty piece of work. He wasn’t just an amoral mercenary with overly flexible ethics, he was quite approving of working slave labourers to death.

I am in no danger of becoming a Dornberger. A Von Braun? Well, apart from the lack of talent on my part, yes, I could see myself becoming like him if I was careless. Just by getting too wrapped up in a technically sweet solution to an intractable problem, by telling myself I was advancing Science for all Humanity, and a hundred other justifications and excuses for selling my soul, one compromise at a time.

Maybe I already have done. Some work I did 25 years ago is now in the hands of a regime I do not trust. Had they been in power then, I would not have worked on that project, just as I refused to work on some others. Continue reading