This is a continuation of a post at Liberty Corner.
I commented on Micha Ghertner’s post, “Moral Relativism Isn’t What You Think It Is,” at Catallarchy. Joe Miller’s comment on my comment led me to follow up with a hypothetical and some related questions. Joe Miller replied thoroughly and thoughtfully to those questions. I reproduce below my hypothetical and the related questions (flush left), Joe Miller’s replies to those questions (indented and set in italics), and my response to Joe Miller’s replies (double-indented and set in bold).
1. In Country A (just as in Country B), the armed forces are controlled by the state. (I don’t want to get off onto the tangent of whether war is more or less likely if defense is provided by private agencies.)
2. The only restriction on the liberty of Country A’s citizens is that they must pay taxes to support their armed forces. Country B’s citizens own no property; their jobs are dictated by the state; their income is dictated by the state; and all aspects of their lives are regimented by state decrees.
3. Though Country A’s armed forces are underwritten by taxes, the members of the armed forces are volunteers. The members of Country B’s armed forces are conscripts, and Country B’s armed forces are, in effect, supplied and equipped by slave labor.
4. Country A would liberate Country B’s citizens, if it could. Country B would subjugate or kill Country A’s citizens, if it could.
The questions (all of which I answer “yes”):
1. If Country B attacks Country A, what limits (if any) would you place on the measures Country A might take in its defense? Specifically:
a. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable at all?
1. a. Yes, provided that Country A doesn’t directly intend those casualties, that it takes pains to minimize such casualties, and that it ensures that said casualties are proportional to military gains.
I don’t know how to evaluate proportionality. Perhaps an empathetic decision-maker might make a seat-of-the-pants judgment that “enough is enough” or “the particular objective isn’t worth the cost in human life.” Do you have a more precise metric in mind?
b. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable if they’re the result of mistakes on Country A’s part or the unavoidable result of Country A’s attacks on Country B’s armed forces and infrastructure?
1. b. Yes, but see 1a. for caveats.
See my comment on your answer to 1.a.
c. Is the deliberate infliction by Country A of civilian casualties in Country B acceptable as long as Country A’s leaders reasonably believe that the infliction of those casualties – and nothing else – will bring about the defeat of Country B? (Assume, here, that Country A’s leaders try to inflict only the number of casualties deemed necessary to the objective.)
1. c. Maybe. I think that there are two components to supreme emergency. One is that there must be an imminent danger of losing and the second is that losing must be catastrophically evil. Worldwide Stalinism probably would count. I’m not sure, from your quick description of Country B, that it really meets the second part of that criteron.
It would always be a judgment call. I suppose there are many libertarians (not to mention pacifists) who would rule out any deliberate infliction of casualties, even under the circumstances I’ve outlined.
(Assume, for purposes of the next 2 questions, that Country A inflicts casualties on Country B’s civilians only to the extent that those casualties are the result of mistakes or unavoidable collateral damage.)
2. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is about to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to:
a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?
2. a. Yes. I’ve no objection to preemptive strikes, provided that it really is the case that Country B is about to attack. If you and I get into a fight, I see no reason that I’m obligated to wait for your first punch to land before I can defend myself. Once I see that you’re going to throw the punch, it’s okay if mine lands first. I can’t see why that ought not apply in war, as well.
b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A’s citizens?
2. b. Yes, again. It’s not the winning or losing or the casualties that matter here. It’s a question of aggression. The scenario you describe makes Country B the aggressor, regardless of who actually fires the first shot. That said, finding real cases of preemption isn’t easy to do. Israel in the Six Day’s War comes closest. (Or is it Seven? Hard to keep up with countries that keep winning wars in less than a week.)
3. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is developing the wherewithal to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to
a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?
3. a. Nope. Here’s the analogy I like to use in class. Suppose that you and I really don’t like each other. In fact, we really hate one another. As it happens, right now, I’m stronger than you and know a bit about fighting, so I’m not really in much danger from you in a fight. But now suppose that I see that you’ve taken out a gym membership and signed up for Kung Fu classes at the Y. Am I justified in beating you up now on the grounds that, in a few months, you might possibly decide to beat me up? The same has to hold true for nations, I think. The mere fact that Country B doesn’t like Country A and is arming itself doesn’t imply that Country A will actually attack Country B. After all, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. actively didn’t like one another and actively armed against one another without ever actually directly shooting at one another. Possibility of future attack doesn’t justify preventive war. Imminence of attack does. When Country B makes it clear that they actually mean to attack, then they’ve aggressed against Country A and war is justified.
Assume this situation: Country B is developing a devasting weapon that, if used, would kill half of Country A’s inhabitants. There is no way to defend against the weapon if Country B decides to use it. Country B hasn’t said that it would use the weapon, but the mere existence of the weapon poses a grave threat to Country A’s citizens. Country B has demonstrated through its past behavior that it is unreceptive to pleas, negotiations, and offers of economic “assistance” (i.e., bribes). The only way to ensure that Country B won’t use the weapon when it’s built is to destroy the weapon in a pre-emptive attack, while the weapon is still under development. Country B has deliberately placed the development site so that a pre-emptive attack would result in the deaths of one-half of Country B’s citizens. What would you do? I know what I’d do, given my opening statements about Country A and Country B: I’d launch the pre-emptive attack, as long as it had a reasonable chance of success (say 50%) and as long as I had the wherewithal to launch at least one more equally potent attack.
3.b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A’s citizens?
3. b. Same as 3a.
See my comment on your answer to 3.a.