Rick, at Brutally Honest, struggles with an agonizing question that always faces moral nations when they embark on a war: What about the enemy’s civilian population? Is there ever a justification for targeting women and children, as was done at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? He links to an equally thoughtful Joe Carter post on the subject.
Before I get to the larger issue of whether there is ever a justification for attacking civilians directly, let me touch upon the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. When I was growing up, it was fashionable to say that the only reason America dropped the bomb was to show to Joe Stalin that America had the bomb.
The first challenge I ever met to this prevailing Leftist academic dogma came from Paul Fussell, in his book Thank God for the Atom Bomb. In the eponymous first essay, Fussell argued that Truman’s advisers told him that, while the Americans would inevitably win against Japan, continuing traditional warfare would mean invading the Japanese mainland, and facing a citizen army of women and children. The advisers estimated another 30,000-40,000 American military dead, plus Japanese dead in the hundreds of thousands. That calculation made a couple of bombs seem like a reasonable alternative. One would end up with the same number of Japanese deaths either way, but still save American lives.
As my mom was a POW in a Japanese concentration camp, and Truman’s decision did save her life, I’ve always been comfortable with that decision. Incidentally, recently released records from 1945 show that it was Fussell, not the revisionists, who correctly nailed the 1945 analysis that led to the bomb. (That is, we now know that (a) the Japanese were prepared to fight to the last infant and (b) that’s precisely what Truman’s advisers told him.)
The above is a pragmatic discussion, a numbers game, if you will. I have a slightly different point to make, which is the bad seed theory. It’s a theory that gets a lot of play in my house, because my young son (who hopes to enter the military one day) struggles with the notion of fighting people who embrace a bad idea because they don’t know any better. He fully understands that your average Taliban fighter (not the Western-educated elites, but the guys on the ground) has never been exposed to ideas other than the virtue of sharia and worldwide Islamic domination. His world view is a one way street. My son therefore struggles with moral relativism as it plays out on the field of battle.
The problem for my son, as for all generations of fighters, is that the battle doesn’t always play out on the field. Or sometimes, as the Civil War showed, the battle cannot be won efficaciously on the field. It wasn’t until Sherman marched through Georgia, demoralizing the civilians, that the war finally ended. As with the war against the Japanese, the North would have inevitably won, but at a much greater cost to the North, and a potentially greater cost to the South. It seems that, in war as in love, sometimes you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind.
What we do know is that wars over values, as opposed to wars over borders, are always the most viciously fought. One can compromise over a river bed. One cannot compromise over people’s most deeply held beliefs. Your beliefs are either right or they’re wrong. God is on your side or he isn’t. Once the battle has gone existential, there is no middle ground.
Also, even as we’re struggling with the morality of our own actions, they’re still trying to kill us. The Underwear Bomber who tried to blow up an airplane full of people is busily arguing that he didn’t commit a criminal act, because, had he been successful, the slaughter would have fallen under the heading of religiously justifiable homicide. The Koran is his book, and the Koran authorizes infidel killing. It’s that simple. Nor is this killing a subject of anguish and morality. For those who embrace Islamism, it’s a sport — fun and totally reasonable because authorized by Allah.
It’s the young ‘uns that matter. Yes, they are the future. But the future they create will be determined by the values they embrace. Sometimes, one has to demonstrate to that generation, resoundingly, that their God has failed. Sadly, depending on the rot that’s corrupted the next generation — the bad seeds — the battle for hearts and minds cannot be won as long as they see a smidgen of hope. The only way to prevail is to show that their God has failed, and then to educate them up again, as we did in the post-WWII era with Japan and Germany.
Having said all that, I’m opposed to targeting civilians as a general principle of war. One fights the military. Civilians become potential targets only when it becomes clear that there is no other way to destroy a much greater evil. And of course, one of the hallmarks of a greater evil is a nation or ideology that deliberately puts its children in the path of war.
UPDATE: By the way, the Left knows that it’s the young ‘uns that matter. As I wrote years ago, sex is a powerful factor in Leftist control, something that Zombie points out in telling of the latest Leftist sexual outrages against young children.