Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When is a civilian not a civilian?

That sounds like a really dumb question, I realize. "When he joins a military unit, either by volunteering or conscription," seems like the obvious answer. And it IS the correct one.

But you would be surprised how many people will implicitly deny it when flaunting their status as Truly Faithful Catholics,™ not blinded by Americanist Ideology, in the annual St. Blogs ritual of "Let's Debate The Hiroshima/Nagasaki Bombings," which is scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks. They will bang Gaudium et Spes 80 on the table and take for granted the characterization that the bombings were a mass slaughter of civilians.

That assumption is however wrong. Spectacularly. And has been known to be wrong from the very beginning. It is a fact, not disputed by anyone, that Japan had conscripted its entire male populace, ages 15-60, and female populace, 17-45, to resist an American invasion. With bamboo sticks and suicide-bomb attacks, if necessary (Britain had been in similarly dire straits after Dunkirk, with some Home Guard units planning to fight with spanners; there have been persistent reports that I've never checked the reliablity of that we also planned to use poison gas indiscriminately against Wehrmacht units should they land a significant number of troops). The military-civilian distinction is not a natural one -- it's entirely conventional and functional, based on the actions of individuals. I could become a combatant tomorrow. Eric Johnson recently became a civilian after years as a Marine, simply by signing (or rather, not signing) a piece of paper. There is thus no reason not to take Japanese universal conscription as effective and binding, and thus relevant to the combatant-noncombatant distinction. There is no "natural" military age -- and some cultures have fought with soldiers as young as 8 or 9 (though obviously, it's better not to) .and obviously physical infirmity varies from person to person.

In other words, by the actions of its government, its universal conscription, and their tendencies as gleaned from Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japanese cities ceased to be "civilian" in any meaningful sense and became more like large bases, for the universal militia. Also (and this is relevant to "proportionality" and how "double effect" reasoning plays out) the killing of what looked like civilians really wasn't the killing of civilians, but the conscripted soldiers for the planned Operation Ketsu-Go suicide missions. So the 200,000 persons killed at Hiroshima, rather than (I'm making these numbers up for illustration's sake) 10,000 military personnel and 190,000 civilians (Hiroshima was unquestionably the HQ of the Japanese 2nd Army ... so it's not like any informed person could ever have claimed there was NO military value to A-bombing Hiroshima. The question has always been one of proportionality). But rather, it may have been more like killing maybe 150,000 from the battalions of Operation Ketsu-Go and 50,000 noncombatants. That obviously is a very different picture.

And it is also the facts, or very close to them, given the Japanese mass conscription. Anybody who simply says "slaughter 200,000 civilians" next month should be simply ignored or ridiculed. They don't know the most basic facts on the ground, and are thus not entitled to an opinion of the morality of the act, since they do not accurately describe and characterize said act in the first place. Garbage in, Garbage out.

Now, however it may look, this is not utilitarian calculus. Rather, my point is that since a "proportionate" number of civilians can be killed, foreseeably but unintendedly as a "double effect," in pursuit of legitimate military goals, universal japanese conscription made Hiroshima and Nagasaki more like conventional military raids. The only alternative to accepting the legitimacy of proportionate collateral damage (meaning the death of noncombatants) is morally-binding absolute pacifism, a position not held by the Church and plainly incompatible with Scripture and Tradition. We can disagree about what is "proportionate," and I'd certainly say that nuking, say, Tehran (and probably killing a seven-digit number of noncombatants) based on the certain knowledge that Osama bin Laden were somewhere in the city, would be disproportionate. Some sort of calculus that might look like utilitarianism has to occur at this point.

5 comments:

Greg said...

Shawn McElhinney and I took on Dave Amrstrong's idiocy on this issue last year:


http://coworkersintruth.blogspot.com/2005/09/debunking-dave-armstrongs-consensus-of.html

and:

http://rerum-novarum.blogspot.com/2005_09_04_rerum-novarum_archive.html#112597686021412009

It is high time that Catholic apologists and writers not pontificate on issue they know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

Great site, I am bookmarking it!Keep it up!
With the best regards!
David

Anonymous said...

Hello!I enjoyed looking around Your website, colors,
layouts are great, keep up a good work!With the best regards!
Jimmy

Anonymous said...

Hello!I enjoyed looking around Your website, colors,
layouts are great, keep up a good work!With the best regards!
Jimmy

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this place, where people can leave their ideas and opinions, it's great!With the best regards!