War Crimes

Tuesday, August 10, AD 2010

As the New York Times remembers Hiroshima, Richard Fernandez asks us to name the two greatest losses of civilian life in the Pacific war. (“Hint. In both cases the civilian casualties were greater than Hiroshima’s. In one case the event took place on American soil.”)

Meanwhile, Donald Sensing (Sense of Events) thinks it’s past time for Western churches to stop treating Japan as victim every Aug. 6 and 9:

I refuse on principle to pollute God’s ears with prayers dedicated only to Hiroshima Day and the dead of those cities while ignoring the tens of millions of Japanese-murdered souls who cry for remembrance, but do not get it, certainly not from the World Council of Churches and its allies who have no loathing but for their own civilization. If the prayers of the WCC’s service are to be offered, let them be uttered on Aug. 14, the day Japan announced its surrender, or on Sept. 2, the day the surrender instruments were signed aboard USS  Missouri. Let our churches no longer be accessories to Japan’s blood-soaked silence but instead be voices for the  millions of murdered victims of its bloodlust, imperialist militarism.

(HT: Bill Cork).

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97 Responses to War Crimes

  • Excellent post Christopher. Apparently Pius XII wasn’t as certain initially in his condemnation of the bombings as those members of Catholic blogdom in this country who engage in the self-flagellation ritual of spitting on the grave of Harry Truman in the annual August bomb follies. When the chief diplomat of the US mentioned an editorial of L Osservatore Romano that criticized the US for the bombings Pius responded that the editorial had not been authorized by him. I truly pray that those swift to condemn Truman never have to deal with making a decision that would kill hundreds of thousands, or likely kill millions if they do not make the decision. The cry of “consequentialism” is of course useful on Catholic blogs, and fairly useless when dealing with grim realities that constantly arise in war.

  • Sitting in Truman’s seat I may well have made the same decision. But I would not have tried to defend it before my Creator. The intrinsically evil nature of the act is not altered by either its good intentions or beneficial consequences. Some sins are simply more forgivable than others. While I’m willing to defend Truman I am unwilling to defend his decision, even though I certainly sympathize with his predicament. As wrong as his decision was, Truman is a far more morally sympathetic character than most of his vain and self-righteous critics.

  • Thanks for this post, Christopher. The last two paragraphs–yours and Michael’s–pretty well sum up where I am now.

    My sons and I visited the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force last month, and one of the exhibits is the original “Bockscar,” the B-29 which dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. I posed my sons by a Spad XIII (the same model as flown by Eddie Rickenbacker) and by an F-86 Sabre (Korea). I refused to do the same with Bockscar. I explained to my oldest (I was trying to keep my youngest from touching every. single. aircraft. in the museum) what it was, and also said that it killed thousands of innocent people, and was dropped by a Catholic cathedral. If nothing else, I think he’ll remember that and understand the horrid complexity of war, even when the war itself is necessary.

  • It’s true that the Japanese army committed atrocities during WWII with a greater death toll than Hiroshima, but when was the last time you read an article trying to justify the Rape of Nanking?

  • I’m not sure what VDH’s point was about the Tokyo raids. Because we had done much worse, Hiroshima is not bad?

    The correct moral decision is clear enough. The fact it would be difficult to follow through on it is no real surprise. Doing the right thing is rarely easy.

    I have no desire to villify Truman for dropping the bomb; but I don’t consider him a hero either.

  • The firebombings of earlier in the war both in Europe and Japan were clearly nothing more than acts of terror deliberately calculated to demoralize civilians… and Dresden was a particularly horrific example of this barbarism (cf., http://www.rense.com/general19/flame.htm).

    “Bomber” Harris, the Brit commander behind Dresden and similar attacks, also memorialized in Britain by a statue in his honor, famously said he did “not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.”
    And,
    “the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive…should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany.”

    And,
    “It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.”

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only extensions of this immoral military doctrine. The Brits, who during Germany’s V-2 campaign suffered a small fraction of the casualities they themselves would inflict on a supine German civilian population, should have known better.

    Truman should also have known better.

  • I am not able to argue against any of the comments posted by Tom so I will not attempt it. To give the military the benefit of the doubt for their actions, many soldiers had to act on the notion “kill or be killed” – which is totally different than our plush civilian lives.

    Many soldiers did not know who they could trust and saw death because of it. Leaders tried to keep their soldiers alive. Many were battle weary from long months of fighting in extreme conditions. We take the emotinally scars of these individuals for granted.

    This was war. We were attacked. Japan would not surrender and contiuned torturing people. Truman was obligated to defend this country and our allies and wanted to bring the troups home. I am not sure that we now are qualified to make a judgement statement such as “Truman should also have known better”.

    The dropping of these bombs was a tragic event. With the determination of Imperial Japan, what would have stopped them? Should we consider additional bombing raids that would have killed more people any less evil? Would sending our soldiers into certain-death situations be less evil since many were physically and emotionally drained? Are we supposed to consider self-defense and defense of others as evil?!

  • I am not able to argue against any of the comments posted by Tom so I will not attempt it. To give the military the benefit of the doubt for their actions, many soldiers had to act on the notion “kill or be killed” – which is totally different than our plush civilian lives.

    Many soldiers did not know who they could trust and saw death because of it. Leaders tried to keep their soldiers alive. Many were battle weary from long months of fighting in extreme conditions. We take the emotional scars of these individuals for granted.

    This was war. We were attacked. Japan would not surrender and contiuned torturing people. Truman was obligated to defend this country and our allies and wanted to bring the troups home. I am not sure that we now are qualified to make a judgement statement such as “Truman should also have known better”.

    The dropping of these bombs was a tragic event. With the determination of Imperial Japan, what would have stopped them? Should we consider additional bombing raids that would have killed more people any less evil? Would sending our soldiers into certain-death situations be less evil since many were physically and emotionally drained? Are we supposed to consider self-defense and defense of others as evil?!

  • My opinion: liberal, left-wing catholics resurrect this uncharitable (“He who is without sin . . . , etc.) opinion each August in order (I think) to salve their consummate consciences for voting for abortion: because America Hiroshima is evil, don’t you know? But, it’s not evil to vote for abortion.

    BARF!

  • T. Shaw,

    Most, if not all of us who frequent here are adamantly opposed to abortion and I have never voted for anyone who supports the killing of the unborn (whether the candidate has a D or R after his name).

    This is not Vox Nova.

    But evil is evil, and wrong is wrong. I agree with the others that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were evils, as well as Dresden, etc. It should be no surprise that even generally good people can do evil things.

  • Of course, our national flirtation with war-crime-as-policy began with Lincoln, who unleashed Sherman on the civilian population of the South:

    Quoth Sherman,
    “The Government of the United States has in North Alabama any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war – to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything . . . . war is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact…. We will . . . take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper.”

    Not rebellious southern civilians alone were subject to this policy, but the Indians too:

    “It is one of those irreconcilable conflicts that will end only in one way, one or the other must be exterminated . . . . We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to the extermination, men, women and children” … “The more Indians we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed next year… They all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.”

    There’s no ambiguity about it: deliberate targeting of non-combatants and their homes and property is flat out immoral. I hope The American Catholic continues to rank the noun above the adjective.

  • Of course, our national flirtation with war-crime-as-policy began with Lincoln, who unleashed Sherman on the civilian population of the South

    Er, no.

    That hypothesis would be news to the Iroquois, who referred to George Washington as the “burner of towns” for his dispatch of John Sullivan to root out the pro-British tribes in 1779. Sullivan performed his mission with gusto, obliterating at least 40 Iroquois villages.

    Washington was actually rather disappointed with the results, truth be told.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sullivan_Expedition

  • There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the use of the word “moral”. The Church quite clearly teaches that morality is a personal attribute. A nation, an institution, a group cannot sin. It has no soul, no free will.

    [Likewise, the Church did not commit the sexual. They were acts of individuals. And again the Church did not cover up the acts. Those were decisions by individual bishops].

    The question then becomes “whose was the sin?” Who should be put on trial?

    There is a great deal of the disingenuous in those who point to others as the sinners. It is just a tad too easy at a distance of 60 years. And there is a touch of discerning the mote in the eye of others.

    Should not those who so quick to condemn the bombings, to condemn the war, be willing to give up all the benefits they enjoy as a result of the war?

    It seems to me that we Americans did what amounts to acts of contrition by rebuilding Germany and Japan after the war, and ridding those countries of the brutal regimes which oppressed them.

  • I think that several of the comments here misunderstand the upshot of the original post. Is it possible to hold both that

    (1) the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other bombings of non-combatants, both in WWII and after, is an intrinsically evil act

    and

    (2) the agents responsible for committing those acts were in all liklihood not possessed of a desire to commit an intrinsically evil act, but by a desire to do the best thing possible in a very bad set of circumstances.

    Sometimes holier-than-thou-types seem not to understand that holding (2) does not remove the force of (1) but, if anything, testifies even more strongly to how pervasive sin is in the world: sometimes what seems to be the very best thing to an already compromised ethical agent (and who is not already compromised) is intrinsically evil.

    I take it that there exists an analogy between Truman and his desicion and the sister in charge of medical ethics at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, who ordered the D&E on the woman who appeared to be dying from priaclampsia [sic?].

  • Of course then we would have the burning of Chambersburg by the Confederates after the citizenry were unable to come up with the monetary ransom requested by the boys in gray.

    http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1973/5/1973_5_36.shtml

    Then there is also the fact that the Confederate States decreed death for all former slaves in the Union Army and the officers who led them.

    “3. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.

    4. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy.”

    http://www.history.umd.edu/Freedmen/pow.htm

    Neo-Confederate apologists for the Confederacy have a lot to explain when they want to take Lincoln to task for “total war”.

  • One element I would like to raise in this thread is the alternatives to what Truman did. The opponents of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also oppose the fire bombing of Japanese cities which was the only way to destroy from the air the spread out Japanese industries. Presumably they would also have opposed an air tight blockade of the Home Islands, probably going on for years, in order to starve Japan into surrender. Of course while this was still going on Japan would have still controlled a large part of Asia and continued to kill, on average, some 300,000 civilians each and every month. An invasion of the Home Islands would have led to a mammoth death toll of civilians. During the battle of Manila in March of 45 MacArthur restricted the use of artillery and air power in order to attempt to spare civilian casualties. Some 100,000 civilians died anyway, some deliberately slain by the Japanese, but most simply dying as a result of being caught in the cross fire of two armies battling in an urban area.

    So, critics of Truman, you are in his shoes. What do you do? (I do hope that no one brings up the truly fatuous idea of inviting the Japanese military to observe a test of the bomb. The Japanese didn’t surrender after Hiroshima. A test of a bomb would have had no impact upon the Japanese government.)

  • I understand that the bombing of Dresden was immoral. It was (as far as I know) a civilian, not a military, target. But does that distinction apply to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The Japanese civilians were doing machine work in their houses; the families were trained for combat. Granted, they weren’t uniformed, and who knows if they would have resisted or surrendered, but I don’t see how they can be classified as non-military.

  • Oh – let me add, “unless I’m wrong”. I’m no ethicist or historian.

  • Hindsight may be 20/20, but war crimes are forever.

  • Don, if I were Truman, I would not have insisted on unconditional surrender.

  • Actually Pinky Dresden was rather heavily involved in the German war effort. A good revisionist look at that bombing is linked to below:

    http://www.amazon.com/Dresden-Tuesday-February-13-1945/dp/0060006773

    In regard to what an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands would have entailed the most recent study is linked below.

    “Giangreco, a longtime former editor for Military Review, synthesizes years of research in a definitive analysis of America’s motives for using atomic bombs against Japan in 1945. The nuclear bombing of Japan, he concludes, was undertaken in the context of Operation Downfall: a series of invasions of the Japanese islands American planners estimated would initially cause anywhere from a quarter-million to a million U.S. casualties, plus millions of Japanese. Giangreco presents the contexts of America’s growing war weariness and declining manpower resources. Above all, he demonstrates the Japanese militarists’ continuing belief that they could defeat the U.S. Japan had almost 13,000 planes available for suicide attacks, and plans for the defense of Kyushu, the U.S.’s initial invasion site, were elaborate and sophisticated, deploying over 900,000 men. Japanese and American documents presented here offer a chillingly clear-eyed picture of a battle of attrition so daunting that Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall considered using atomic and chemical weapons to support the operation. Faced with this conundrum, in Giangreco’s excellent examination, President Truman took what seemed the least worst option.”

    http://www.amazon.com/Hell-Pay-Operation-DOWNFALL-1945-1947/dp/1591143160/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1281467655&sr=1-1

  • “Don, if I were Truman, I would not have insisted on unconditional surrender.”

    What terms would you have offered Japan restrainedradical? Here are the terms Truman offered.

    Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender
    Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945

    “1.We-the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war.

    2.The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.

    3.The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

    4.The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.

    5.Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.

    6.There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.

    7.Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war-making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.

    8.The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.

    9.The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.

    10.We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.

    11.Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.

    12.The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

    13.We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”

    http://www.ndl.go.jp/constitution/e/etc/c06.html

  • So, critics of Truman, you are in his shoes. What do you do?

    If I were Truman my priority would have been to end the war quickly so as to prevent Soviet entry into the war (the fact that the Allies actually encouraged Soviet entry is one of the more boneheaded moves in all of diplomatic history). If ending the war quickly meant accepting something less than unconditional surrender (say, by letting the Japanese keep their Emperor), then it would have been cheap at the price.

    If you were going to use the atom bomb, I don’t see why you couldn’t have dropped it on a strictly military target (such as the troops at Kyushu). That would have achieved the same effect as Hiroshima without incinerating tens of thousands of women and children.

  • Arguing from counterfactuals is rather unhelpful in this instance. Our knowledge of what *may* have happened, given a different decision, is so slight as to provide no reason for acting. This is, by the way, why moral absolutes are important for Catholic theology. One does not have to provide an (impossible) answer to McClarey’s question–it is all just speculation at this point, anyhow–in order to determine that Truman’s act was wrong.

  • “If you were going to use the atom bomb, I don’t see why you couldn’t have dropped it on a strictly military target (such as the troops at Kyushu).”

    The Japanese located their military units in urban areas in the Home Islands.

    For example:
    “At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a city of considerable military significance. It contained the headquarters of the Fifth Division and Field Marshal Hata’s 2nd General Army Headquarters, which commanded the defence of all of southern Japan.”
    http://www.japaneselifestyle.com.au/travel/hiroshima_bombing.htm

    In regard to the Emperor, prior to Hiroshima, Japanese advocates of a negotiate piece assumed that such a peace would have to entail, at a minimum, no occupation of Japan, no dis-arming of Japan and Japan keeping some of its overseas conquests. Japanese militarists laughed at such peace advocates and assumed that Japan could stop an American invasion and cause the US, sick of war and high casualties, to withdraw from most of Asia and the Pacific. A negotiated peace is a fantasy.

  • “One does not have to provide an (impossible) answer to McClarey’s question–it is all just speculation at this point, anyhow–in order to determine that Truman’s act was wrong.”

    Wrong. Catholic moral theology has never simply thrown up its hands in regard to the real world. If Truman hadn’t dropped the bombs there would have been consequences, almost certainly terrible consequences. Condemning Truman without owning up to those consequences and accepting them, is to pretend that we live in a pacifist dream world rather than a world where the leaders of nations sometimes have to make decisions that will end up killing lots of people no matter what they do or not do. Condemning is easy, thinking through the consequences of acting or not acting is much harder and less pleasant, but must be done if moral theology is to be something more than a bat to swing in Catholic comboxes.

  • The Japanese located their military units in urban areas in the Home Islands.

    To suggest that the bomb couldn’t have been dropped on a military target in Japan without resulting in 95% civilian casualties is just silly. Dropping the bomb on the assembled forces at Kyushu would have had the same effect as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but without the massive civilian loss of life.

    In regard to the Emperor, prior to Hiroshima, Japanese advocates of a negotiate piece assumed that such a peace would have to entail, at a minimum, no occupation of Japan, no dis-arming of Japan and Japan keeping some of its overseas conquests.

    I would say these were the maximum expected demands, not the minimum. However, even if the above were what it would take to end the war without incinerating tens of thousands of women and children, I think Truman should have accepted them.

  • “I would say these were the maximum expected demands, not the minimum. However, even if the above were what it would take to end the war without incinerating tens of thousands of women and children, I think Truman should have accepted them.”

    Which of our Asian allies would you have advised to “suck it up” BA and continue to live under the Rising Sun? How do you think the American people would have reacted to the idea that the nation that brought them Pearl Harbor was going to retain some foreign conquests, not be occupied, not be disarmed and probably be ready for another go at the US in twenty years. Your suggestion might fit some fantasy world. It certainly could not have been implemented by any US President in 1945.

  • Oh, and BA, Hiroshima had 43,000 troops in it when the bomb was dropped.

  • Donald,

    You’re right, I’m sure America never would have stood for China or Korea living under oppression.

    Actually the Chinese wanted to make peace with Japan at the beginning of 1945, but didn’t out of deference to America. The idea that Truman bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he was concerned about the plight of the Chinese is the real fantasy.

    And as far as I can tell you have no answer as to why the bomb couldn’t be dropped on the troops at Kyushu.

  • Oh, and BA, Hiroshima had 43,000 troops in it when the bomb was dropped.

    And how many were there in Nagasaki?

  • Good way of completely avoiding the question of which of our Asian allies you would have thrown to the wolves BA. The idea that such a thing would have been entertained by the US government is a tribute to the absurdity that usually surrounds the August Follies. In regard to China making a separate peace with Japan, unless you can cite chapter and verse, I will also assume that this is a fantasy of yours. The Japanese army had actually gone on the offensive in 44 and 45 in China and controlled a huge amount of China.

    http://cbi-theater-1.home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater-1/lantern/lantern050445.html

    There was zero prospect that Japan was going to willingly withdraw from China absent surrender by Japan. As a matter of fact, several overseas commanders after Japan surrendered contemplated carrying on a war.

    As to your odd assumption that there were large military units in Kyushu out in the open waiting to be bombed, the military units of Japan were subject to conventional bombing like everything else in Japan. They were dispersed, with most of them located in urban centers, as was the case in Hiroshima.

  • And how many were there in Nagasaki?

    I don’t know how many strictly military folks there were, but I know the Japanese lady at Sasebo’s indoc mentioned that it was their primary Navy shipyards. (Sasebo became the largest afterwards.)

  • Presumably they would also have opposed an air tight blockade of the Home Islands, probably going on for years, in order to starve Japan into surrender.

    One thing about the blockade – it takes a lot longer (as you admit, years) and it can be reveresed, as well as regulated to allow certain subsistence amounts in (and refugees out, if you are so inclined), and the repeated opportunity to surrender, change minds, etc. With the bomb, it’s all over in an instant, and there is no going back.

  • Mitsubishi shipyards, if anyone wants to research.

  • I don’t know that a blockade would have taken years. Like Britain, Japan was and remains a net food importer, and our submarine force was annihilating their merchant marine at will. I don’t think their navy would have been able to escort sufficient convoys to keep them going for very long.

    Then again, famine and the attendant diseases can’t be flipped off like a light switch, either. I can easily see the civilian death toll from a blockade leaping into the high hundred thousands, if not more than a million, in relatively short order, even given a surrender.

    And as to subsistence blockades–well, that certainly hasn’t hurt the Kim tyrants in North Korea. That ratchets down the likelihood of surrender, I think, and ups the likelihood of continuous conventional bombardment.

  • The famine would have hit in the Spring of 1946. MacArthur only avoided the famine historically with huge shipments of food that he insisted be sent to Japan from the US. Needless to say, sending food to Japan was not popular. MacArthur in response to opposition said that he was responsible for keeping the Japanese alive and that he would resign rather than allow mass starvation on his watch. It was Mac’s finest moment in my opinion.

    I have my doubts that even mass starvation would have caused the Japanese to capitulate, absent intervention by Hirohito, something he was unwilling to do until after Nagasaki.

  • FWIW, there was a similar discussion here on Kiwiblog.co.nz a few days ago.

    Most opinions were that “The Bomb” was the right decision under the circumstances, for all the reasons above mentioned.

    This will be debated for many years to come, by those who will moralize and condemn those who had this truly terrible decision to make, in the dispassionate comfort of their safe armchairs.

    Does the end justify the means? No.
    Was this means justified? If the END was to prevent the continued destruction of human life, and in bringing the war to an abrupt end, prevent the killing of many more millions than “The Bomb” would kill, then yes, the MEANS was justified.

  • The only non-negotiable I would insisted on would have been withdrawal from occupied lands. Some disarmament would probably have been necessary too. I may also have insisted on a reparations fund.

  • Intrinsically immorlal means can never be justified by good ends/consequences. Truman was wrong. But he was still a good man trying hard to do the right thing. This is not all that different from the Sister Margaret McBride, who when confronted with the choice of directly taking a life (via a direct abortion) versus allowing that same life and that of another (the mother) to die did what most sensible and well-intentioned people would do — choose to have one person to survive rather than none. Very understandable. But still very wrong.

  • After Nagasaki, Japan agreed to all terms except removal of the emperor. It was rejected and conventional bombing continued, killing thousands more.

  • Your understanding of those events is faulty restrainedradical. Here is actually what was said on August 12 by the Allies:

    “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers who will take such steps as he deems proper to effectuate the surrender terms. …The ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people”

    The Allies heard nothing from Japan on August 13, and ordered a resumption of bombing for August 14, previously halted by Truman, the date when Hirohito, finally, eight days after Hiroshima and five days after Nagasaki, addressed Japan and ordered the capitulation:

    “Despite the best that has been done by everyone—the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people—the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

    Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

    Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.

    The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.”

    American bombing was halted after Hirohito’s address. Japanese units on the Asian mainland continued fighting for several days after Hirohito’s address.

  • Donald,

    You are misunderstanding my point–which is also the point of Catholic moral theology. To say that one need not provide answers to any of your multitudinous counterfactuals in order to determine that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was evil is just to say that the intentional killing of civilians is *intrinsically* evil. To say this, however, is not to say what you appear to think it says, that I–and the Church–are throwing up our hands with respect to “the real world.” Quite the contrary, the structure of reality, as revealed by Christ and his Church, is precisely what is being respected in the confident determination that some acts are so destructive of the imago dei that they can never, under any circumstances, be permitted–come what may. The intentional killing of innocents has always been regarded as such an act, and for good reason.

    From the perspective of Christian moral theology, it would have been better for Truman–and for any who were cooperators in this act–that the Japanese were militarily victorious than that he should have committed such an act. That is the hard truth.

    Now, you may disagree with the Christ and the Church’s teaching here–many do, Christians and non-Christians alike–but let us not be deceived by a sophistry which attempts to lessen the gravity of this evil act by appeal to a set of conjectures which remain just that, conjectures. From the perspective of Catholic moral theology, it is you, and not I, who are ignoring the “real world.”

  • Don, it’s not incumbent on one who is pointing out the immorality of intentional targeting of civilians to solve the problem of “what other course was there?”

    But the “other course” here would have been to continue the conventional war and perhaps pursuing something other than unconditional surrender.

    Oh, and with regard to the confederates, Bobby Lee in his forays north expressly forbade the type of tactics Sherman expressly adopted.

    Chambersburg should not have been burned, but by 1864 the Confederates were responding to Yankee war crimes, specifically in this case, Hunter’s devestation of civilian targets in the Shenandoah.

    Such is the logic of “total war”– it tends to suck in those who would otherwise not want to practice it.

  • One other thing: from the perspective of the civitas dei, which is the perspective that all Christians are exhorted to conform themselves to, it matters very little who wins what wars, what kinds of polity we are subject to here below, etc. For the Church, there are good things and bad things that accompany *any* political regime, and it is a dangerous, and finally idolatrous, mistake to believe that the defense of any particular civitas terrena–whether it be America in the 20th century, Rome in the 5th, or some future city–is worth the commission of an intrinsically evil act, which destroys one’s participation in the civitas dei.

    None of this entails pacifism. But it does entail our willingness to call a spade a spade.

  • From the perspective of Christian moral theology, it would have been better for Truman–and for any who were cooperators in this act–that the Japanese were militarily victorious than that he should have committed such an act. That is the hard truth.

    I’m not clear that “it would have been better” scenarios along these lines are all that useful. Frankly, from a perspective of Christian moral theology, it would be better if one no had earthly responsibilities for anyone else. Paul, after all, enjoins people not to even marry (and thus take on the responsibilities of a spouse) and for spouses to be celibate (and thus not take on the responsibilities of children) because earthly responsibilies tend to turn us away from true eternal priorities. And yet, we as Catholics also recognize that it is necessary that we as a human community have marriage, have children, have rulers and law, etc. Greater earthly responsibilities invariably distract people from their eternal destinations — something which I think Dante well summarizes the thinking of the Christian tradition on in Purgatorio. And yet, there is also a sense in which it is necessary that a portion of society make the sacrifice of focusing on earthly responsibility. Why?

    One other thing: from the perspective of the civitas dei, which is the perspective that all Christians are exhorted to conform themselves to, it matters very little who wins what wars, what kinds of polity we are subject to here below, etc.

    It seems to me that this misses an obvious issue, which is that the environment in which people find themselves often affects their ability to live in accordance with the the civitas dei. Look at conflicts such as the French Revolution or the Spanish Civil War in which one side was actively invested in stamping out the Church and perverting the order of society. To be sure, such situations offer the opportunity for martyrdom, but for most they offer the opportunity for apostacy, collaboration and corruption. I’m reminded similarly of some of the pieces I’ve read about the archives which are now open in Germany of East German secret police files, where people were constantly encouraged to inform on each other and rewarded for betraying of friends and family. Surely such an environment is destructive to many souls.

    Without question each society presents its own temptations and corruptions, and if anything I lean heavily in the direction of Christians seeking the path to God in their own societies as they exist rather than embracing a revolutionary ethic of overturning the social order in order to make society “more holy”. And armed struggle has a tendency to corrupt all sides. But I can’t see that complete indifference is the right response either.

  • Darwin,

    I mean “would have been better” in the strict sense that it is always better not to commit an intrinsically evil act than to commit one. I do not mean to say, nor is it true that, marriage, law-making, etc. fall under the same category. I am assuming here a post-lapsarian condition.

    As for your second comment: fair enough. I am more Pascalian in my outlook than most, and I am well aware that certain regimes produce certain evils that are on first blush more destructive than the evils of other regimes. (I am not so certain, however, that collaboration, apostasy, etc. are not equally prevalent in the West. There are more lapsed Catholics in American than any other denomination, they say.) But would you at least acknowledge that if my position leads to a skeptical indifferentism, it is nonetheless within the bounds of orthodoxy, and in fact corresponds nearly exactly with Augustine’s own view, whereas the danger in becoming too tied up with the “justness” of a particular regime on earth leads rather quickly to unorthodoxy and idolatry: one excuses intrinsic evils committed by that regime in order to ensure its own continued existence, rather than admitting that such an act has been committed?

    I fear that I discern something of this in McClarey’s hand-waving about the behavior of the Allies–and America in particular–in WWII.

  • Like Darwin, I can’t go so far as to say that it matters little who wins wars… Certainly there are just wars, and WWII was one example. It’s the old Thomistic distinction between jus ad bellum, whether a war is just in the first place, and jus in bello, whether a war is conducted in accordance with moral principles.

    Collateral damage is inevitable in modern warfare, but where the Allies went wrong was in aping the evil done by the Axis powers, i.e., deliberately targeting civilians and non-military targets for the purpose of “demoralizing” the populace.

  • (I am being especially procrastinatory today.)

    Tom,

    First, I agree that yours is a perfectly viable interpretation of where the Allies went wrong in WWII. I agree with it, in fact, and, as I said, nothing in my own position commits one to pacifism.

    But I still think that it is *also* true that, at least according to Augustine and several other thinkers in the Augustinian tradition, it *still* makes little difference what regime a Christian lives under, for the reason that *every* regime is dominated by the libido dominandi, and so, from the perspective of the civitas dei, they are all equal.

    Thomas, and the Thomistic tradition more generally, has a less skeptical view. One that, I hasten to add, is perfectly legitimate. It seems to me that the Church, within the bounds of orthodoxy, allows for a range of opinion on this matter.

    I am not so much bothered by any disagreement here as I am by the hesitancy to call a spade a spade.

  • Don (Kiwi)

    You seem to contradict yourself. First, you say that the ends cannot justify the means, and then you do precisely that – you state the end of ending the war justified the means of dropping the bomb. Am I missing something?

  • “The intentional killing of innocents has always been regarded as such an act, and for good reason.”

    Actually it depends on how you define intentional. Papal armies in the Middle Ages routinely besieged cities, a normal military operation of the time. The cities would be caused to surrender usually through blockades that produced starvation, and, inevitably, disease would usually explode in the cities. If any pope ever breathed a word against sieges as a method of warfare, I am unaware of it. This is quite a bit more of a complicated area than it seems at first glance.

  • That papal armies acted or did not act in certain ways with or without the permission of popes is immaterial. Are you denying that the slaughter of innocents has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act?

  • c matt.

    Re-reading my comment, I appear to do as you say. However, in the context of what was occuring – a war costing huge casualties on both sides, a stark choice became presented. Do we continue as we are, and lose many millions of lives, or do we introduce a new stratagem, and save arguably millions of lives which would otherwise be lost? ( the other choice was, as Wj said earlier, to lie down and be conquered, which to me , would be unacceptable)
    I guess the choice was therefore, a lesser of two evils. No doubt it can be debated whether or not a less evil choice is the correct moral choice in view of the principle, that the end does not justify the means.
    Quite a connundrum, isn’t it?

  • All ends are achieved by a means.

    But the end does not (necessarily) justify the means.

    Some means are justifiable, others are not.

  • Are you denying that the slaughter of innocents has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act?

    I think you mean “are you denying that…has ALWAYS been regarded as an intrinsically evil act,” or “are you CLAIMING…has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act.”

    Perhaps a better tact might be to find out when it was first enumerated as an intrinsic evil?

    DonTK-
    I think the situation is significantly more complicated than folks are willing to consider– even with folks that I KNOW are honestly trying to just figure it out, there’s incredible simplification.

    Does it matter that there was warning given so the population had a chance to leave?
    Does it matter that military operations were moved into civilian areas, even into family dwellings?
    Does it matter that “aiming” with bombs in that day was more an art than a science?
    Do prior tactics of the Americans matter?
    Do prior tactics of the Allies matter?
    Does our responsibility to defend the innocent that WEREN’T in those cities matter?
    What effect does the (possible) Japanese military stopping civilians from evacuating have on the morality of it?
    How much information did they have about what was going on at ground level, and how much could they reasonably be expected to have?

    (stuff like this is probably why a lot of folks think morality should be restricted to philosophy, not the real world– it’s just not as simple IRL, even if it is still black and white)

    I know full well I don’t have nearly enough information to make an informed, binding judgement on these actions that happened before my parents were born. Luckily, I don’t have to; it’s useful to try to figure out, in case a similar case comes along, but it’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not cut and dried.

  • “That papal armies acted or did not act in certain ways with or without the permission of popes is immaterial. Are you denying that the slaughter of innocents has not always been regarded as an intrinsically evil act?”

    I think the praxis of the Church is always of importance, especially when that praxis went on for centuries. I am denying that the Church has condemned all military operations which, by their very nature, were bound to take quite a few innocent lives.

    Let’s think this through. Hiroshima is bombed from the air, either fire bombed or nuked. Bad, intrinsically immoral. Hiroshima is taken by the US in a ground assault in the spring of 46 which, in a house to house fight against the Japanese Army, kills most of the civilian population, who are caught in the cross fire. Morally acceptable. I assume the difference is one of intention, but I find that argument weak. A military man would have to be brain dead not to realize that large scale combat in an urban area is going to kill huge numbers of civilians. If mass casualties are foreseeable in a ground assault, how does that materially differ from mass casualties caused by an air assault? The current Church stance may be an argument for pacifism, but I do not think it adequately addresses that other measures taken in military operations, presumably morally licit, may kill just as many civilians, if not more, than the measures condemned.

    I might also note that in the spiritual realm popes have been quite willing to take actions which have had adverse impacts on innocent parties. A good example would be the Interdict which prevented the dispensing of the sacraments in nations or regions. Imagine a pope saying that a dying innocent could not have the comfort of the Last Rites. However, it was done, and not infrequently, for reasons that the popes employing it deemed good and sufficient. The last use of the Interdict, in a fairly mild form, was by Saint Pius X in the early years of the last century. The idea that innocents have an all-embracing immunity is one that is popular in the Church today, but it is rather a novel one.

  • Now you are just obfuscating. For who would not agree with your following assertion? (I certainly don’t disagree with it.)

    “I am denying that the Church has condemned all military operations which, by their very nature, were bound to take quite a few innocent lives.”

    We don’t need to go through the motions of explaining how the doctrine of double effect applies in ius in bello scenarios on this blog. I’ll just take it for granted that most people reading here have a working knowledge about how unintentional though foreseen civilian casualties, for example, are a different kind of thing than INTENTIONALLY DECIMATING A CIVILIAN TARGET.

    Most ALL military operations involve the unfortunate killing of innocents, and if the Church is to have a doctrine of just war at all, which she most assuredly does, then it is basic to such a doctrine to differentiate foreseen but unintended evils from evils intentionally committed. So while, for example, the intentional slaughter of women and children has always been rightly condemned by the Church–which is not to say that she has not at times engaged in this practice against her better lights (thereby proving true what she has to say about sin)–the unfortunate killing of innocents as a result of some other strategy which does not *directly* target them is a more difficult scenario to parse. There is an entire casuitical literature on this and related topics. We all know all the moves here.

    What you are now doing, in fact, is redescribing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as if this weren’t the intentional killing of civilians. But, on any plausible account of intentional acts (i.e. Thomas, Anscombe, Suarez, etc.), the bombing most clearly *was* an intentionally, and not merely foreseen, attack on noncombatants. Which is, as I said before, intrinsically evil.

    Either you do not understand or you do not agree with the distinction between foreseen and intended consequences–a distinction which is basic to Catholic moral theology. Which is it?

  • By the way, there is one other theological assumption in your response that I take issue with.

    1. The fact that the Church in the past–yea, even for centuries in the past–did or did not intentionally target or unjustly allow a disproportionate number of civilians to be killed in any of her wars is immaterial to the issue at hand. Why? That the Church acted one way or another in the past has, apart from her explicit teachings on doctrine and morals, no bearing on the normative status of that action. For centuries the Church abused the theology of indulgences; from this it does not follow that we, in the present, are supposed to be okay with the selling of indulgences on the grounds that the Church did it in the past. You are conflating two very different kinds of “tradition” and how they have normative bearing in Catholic theology.

    Of course, if you deny the distinction between an intended and a foreseen end, then you are a consequentialist. But if you are a consequentialist, then you have a problem with the decalogue. Do you have a problem with the decalogue?

  • I apologize for the somewhat heated and exasperated tone. If I had known that you denied the difference between an intended and foreseen end, I would have found your defense of the bombings much more intelligible–though not, I am afraid to say, any less repugnant.

  • “Either you do not understand or you do not agree with the distinction between foreseen and intended consequences–a distinction which is basic to Catholic moral theology.”

    My problem WJ is that what is considered as unforeseen in war in regard to civilian casualties is predictable as night follows day. Two corps battling each other in an urban area will produce large amounts of civilian deaths. A siege of a city will produce a large amount of civilian deaths. Foreseeability in this area seems like a very frail reed on which to make categorical distinctions. Because of the technology of the day, bombing an urban center in World War II was going to produce quite a few civilian casualties no matter what was done. My point is that if it is intrinsically evil to ever intentionally engage in the targeting of civilian populations in war, why is it not intrinsically evil to engage in actions in war which, completely predictably, will lead to civilian deaths? Hiding behind foreseeability in this area strikes me as exalting form over substance.

  • No sweat WJ. This is an area which people get passionate about. I certainly am in that category.

  • Donald, I think this response of yours points the way toward a difficult and important issue in the theology of Just War. At least we are now down to brass tacks, as it were. I am enjoying this quite a bit. You write:

    “My point is that if it is intrinsically evil to ever intentionally engage in the targeting of civilian populations in war, why is it not intrinsically evil to engage in actions in war which, completely predictably, will lead to civilian deaths?”

    The short answer to this is that the intentional targeting of a civilian is murder, and murder is always wrong. Why is it wrong? Well, even Augustine, who was not, I have to admit, terribly worried about civilian casualties, views murder as the sort of action which destroys the imago dei in the soul of the person committing it. (Indeed, murder is like any violation of the decalogue in this respect.) So the intentional targeting of a civilian is wrong not *only* because of what happens to the civilian (as you point out, the civilian may well be killed unintentionally via another strategy) but also what happens to you.

    In the second case, the military commander is intending to engage a lawful combatant, and he foresees that as a result of his action some number of civilians will die. This is not *intrinsically* evil, first, because there are some circumstances in which it is permitted; in a less tautological sense, it is not *intrinscially* evil because the ACTION in question is not murder, but some other action describable in a different way, and so the commander in question is not deprived of grace.

    Of course, it way well be the case, at least according to Just War Theory, that at some point the unintended yet foreseen civilian casualties issuing from some or other military strategy outweigh the good that is to be rationally expected to result from that strategy, and in this case the unintended yet foreseen killing of civilians is evil, though not intrinsically so. Some of Pope Benedict XVI’s skepticism as to whether any modern war can be “licit” (cf. interview with Zenit in March of 03 I believe) derives his beliefs that most contemporary wars cannot but fail to be just in their in bello execution. This is an important and complex issue, and it is not one about which I am certain.

    But can I ask a clarifying question? Do you deny the difference between an intentional and a foreseen end per se, or only the validity of this difference as it applies to actions in war?

  • As a follow up: I am not a pacifist, but it has always seemed to me that one of the strongest arguments for pacifism from a strictly theological point of view has to do with the *near impossibility* of ensuring that even the most just war from a ius ad bellum perspective will be able to be fought successfully and justly in bello. Many of your examples seem to support this view. I guess one can go one of two ways here. One can view the near impossibility of ius in bello conduct to constitute a strong argument for a practical, if not principled, pacifism, or one can argue that the Church’s understanding of ius in bello conduct has to be changed or expanded or loosened in some way.

  • “Do you deny the difference between an intentional and a foreseen end per se, or only the validity of this difference as it applies to actions in war?”

    Depends entirely on how likely a foreseeable end is. An artillery barrage is made of a grove of trees. Tragically some lumberjacks are killed. Clearly different from intentionally targeting the lumberjacks.

    A division of enemy troops are in a city filled with civilians and intermingled with the civilians. The artillery unit is told to attack the enemy and civilian deaths results. I don’t view that much differently from intentionally targeting the civilians, since their deaths are entirely predictable. Of course the artillery men didn’t want to kill the civilians, they were merely in the way of accomplishing the goal of winning the war. This area is tricky and filled with moral land mines. Whenever double effect is trotted out, I listen very carefully, but am rarely convinced by it.

  • If you hold that “of course the artillery men didn’t want to kill the civilians,” then you hold that they didn’t intentionally kill them. It seems to me that this is entirely different than the artillery unit intentionally targeting the civilians. Does it not seem so to you?

    I wonder what you make of double effect as it applies to abortion. Do you see the moral difference, that is, between surgically removing a mother’s fallopian tubes, knowing that the child inside them will die as a result of this procedure necessary for saving the mother’s life, and flooding the fallopian tubes with chemicals intended to kill the child? (There are any number of other scenarios, which all share the same structure.)

    The reason I ask is that in both cases the death of the child is entirely foreseeable.
    and directly killing

  • “It seems to me that this is entirely different than the artillery unit intentionally targeting the civilians. Does it not seem so to you?”

    Only if intention governs all. In that case why do the airmen of the Enola Gay not get a pass since they most definitely were not intending to kill civilians but rather to convince Japan to surrender? How does this differ materially from the artillery men intending to win a battle in a city, not intending to kill civilians, but knowing that civilians will be killed in large numbers by their bombardment?

    Frankly in the abortion case where the child cannot survive I see no problem with the desperate necessity of removing the fallopian tubes in order to preserve the mother’s life since the child simply cannot survive in any case. I pray for the day when technology will eliminate this sad quandry.

  • The answer to the first question is that you can’t separate intention from the object of the act. You can’t for example, burn your neighbor’s house to the ground and then say that your “intention” in doing so was to stop him from playing loud music. No, pretty clearly you intended to burn his house down with the further end in mind of ceasing his loud music. But this further end in mind does not mean that in burning his house down you acted unintentionally. So with Truman. The intention was clearly to kill large amounts of Japanese civilians with the further end of bringing the war to a speedy halt. This further end–bringing the war to a speedy halt–does not evacuate the intentional structure of the prior act. If you don’t mind a recommendation here, I suggest you read Anscombe’s classic work “Intention.” She demonstrates all this quite persuasively.

    Indeed, in the latter case, the whole point is that the removal of the fallopian tubes is a *different* act than the direct killing of the child. Which is why it is licit.

  • The intention was clearly to kill large amounts of Japanese civilians with the further end of bringing the war to a speedy halt.

    I have to disagree on the “clearly” part of that — you do NOT warn people to leave and give them time if you are trying to kill large numbers of them.

  • “The answer to the first question is that you can’t separate intention from the object of the act.”

    Ah but that is where foreseeability rears its ugly head. The artillery men bombarding the city filled with enemy troops know that large numbers of civilians will be killed. As a matter of fact Hiroshima had 43,000 Japanese troops in it. Once again, I do not think this is simple at all.

  • What is often ignored by Catholics who spill ink on this issue ignore is 1) The pertinnent Catholic moral principles involved and 2) The actual circumstances within Truman made his decision.

    With respect to the use of atomic weapons, Catholic moral theologian Father Heribert Jone defined them this way:

    The fourth condition required for positing an action that has an evil effect that there be a sufficient reason, i.e., a proportionate resulting good, to permit the evil effect. The morality of using either the atomic or hydrogen bomb as a weapon of war is therefore, not a question of principle, which remains unchangeable, but a question of fact, and the fact questioned is whether there can be a military objective so vital to an enemy, the destruction of which would be a sufficient reason to permit the death of a vast number of civilians who at most contribute only remotely and indirectly to the war effort. We think this proportion can exist 1) because today’s concept of “total war” has greatly restricted the meaning of the term “non-combatant”; 2) because in modern warfare the conscription of industry, as well as manpower, greatly extends the effort on the home front; and 3) because it is difficult to set limits to the defense action of a people whose physical and even spiritual existence is threatened by a godless tyranny. Therefore, while use of atomic weapons must be greatly restricted to the destruction of military objectives, nevertheless, it may be justified without doing violence to the principle of a twofold effect. (Moral Theology #219 pp. 143-44 1961 Edition)

    Unfortunately, all of the of Catholic moral theologians and writers who condemn the bombings demonstrate no knowledge of the circumstances involved. The most horrendous and despicable example, in my view, is the recent piece written by well-known Catholic author and senior apologist at Catholic Answers Jimmy Akin.

    The objections these people raise is that the atomic bomb drops cannot be justified because they targeted innocent civilians. To be sure, there is no moral justification for deliberately killing innocent people regardless of how noble your end purpose is. The ends do not justify the means. You cannot do evil so that good can become of it. True enough.

    However, this was not the case with atomic bombings. In WWII Japan, the meaning of the term non-combatant was not only “greatly restricted” it was completely obliterated. William Manchester, in his biography of General Douglass Mac Arthur states:

    Hirohito’s generals, grimly preparing for the invasion, had not abandoned hope of saving their homeland. Although a few strategic islands had been lost, they told each other, most of their conquests, including the Chinese heartland, were firmly in their hands, and the bulk of their army was undefeated. Even now they could scarcely believe that any foe would have the audacity to attempt landings in Japan itself. Allied troops, they boasted, would face the fiercest resistance in history. Over ten thousand kamikaze planes were readied for “Ketsu-Go,” Operation Decision. Behind the beaches, enormous connecting underground caves had been stocked with caches of food and thousands of tons of ammunition. Manning the nation’s ground defenses were 2,350,000 regular soldiers, 250,000 garrison troops, and 32,000,000 civilian militiamen, a total of 34,600,000, more than the combined armies of the United States, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. All males aged fifteen to sixty, and all females ages seventeen to forty-five, had been conscripted. Their weapons included ancient bronze cannon, muzzle loaded muskets, bamboo spears, and bows and arrows. Even little children had been trained to strap explosives around their waists, roll under tank treads, and blow themselves up. They were called “Sherman’s carpets.” This was the enemy the Pentagon had learned to fear and hate,a country of fanatics dedicated to hara-kiri, determined to slay as many invaders as possible as they went down fighting. [William Manchester: American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pg. 510-511)]

    The mass conscription of “all males ages fifteen and all females ages seventeen to forty-five” is practically the entire adult population. With this, the entire country of Japan became a large military base and no longer a civilian, but a military asset, and therefore, a legitimate military target.

    This idea that the bomb drops were a deliberate attack on innocents is flat out false.

    Furthermore, given the alternatives, either an invasion or blockade would have killed more Japanese, not to mention caused more than a million Amreican casualties in the case of an invasion, the most merciful thing Truman could have done was to drop the bombs. He most certainly could have justifiede it before his creator.

  • Donald,

    I have to get to bed–not a night person–so I’ll conclude by reiterating a distinction which you seem to deny (why? I can’t understand). There is a difference between the object of an intentional action and the foreseeable consequences that follow from that action. If I burn my neighbor’s house down, there will be smoke. I foresee that the act of burning my neighbor’s house down will necessarily produce smoke, and yet the production of smoke is not my intent in burning his house down. My intent is simply: to burn his house down.

    Greg,

    I don’t understand you. Is your claim that there were NO innocent Japanese (as you argue in the first half of your longish post) or that there were in any case LESS (innocent) Japanese killed as a result of the bomb than through other means? If the first, then I don’t see why you mention the second; if the second, then everything I’ve already written here applies to that argument. (I don’t think you’ll get many people agreeing to your first claim, though.)

  • Greg.

    Very interesting, and confirms my thoughts and understanding of the situation.
    Thankyou.

  • Wj.

    If I burn my neighbour’s house down, there will be smoke………”

    INO, applying this thinking is obfuscation of conscience.
    You know that you wish to burn down his house and you know fires create smoke. You therefore cannot claim that the creation of smoke is non-culpable, while the burnng of the house is.

  • Just because an action is or may be the lesser of two evils (dropping the atom bomb vs. all out ground invasion of Japan) doesn’t make it good or justified, or a precedent to follow in the future. The lesser of two evils is still an evil. However, this being a fallen world, sometimes a lesser evil is the best we can do. Unfortunately, what often happens is that instead of simply making the least bad choice possible and asking God’s forgiveness for any sin involved, we try to paint that choice as being entirely good.

  • WJ:

    I did not say there were no innocent Japanese. What I said was that the line between combatant and non-combatant had been erased due to the mass civilian conscription and therefore we were not TARGETING innocents.

  • “If I burn my neighbor’s house down, there will be smoke. I foresee that the act of burning my neighbor’s house down will necessarily produce smoke, and yet the production of smoke is not my intent in burning his house down. My intent is simply: to burn his house down.”

    Your example WJ illustrates precisely where the diffculty in this area lies. Intention either always determines the morality of an action or it does not. I think neither at Hiroshima nor my artillery against a city example is the goal to kill civilians, rather the killing of civilians is a necessary part of the action being undertaken to reach another goal, winning a battle or a war. The difference you would raise between them is that the bomb was directed against civilians while the artillery men only kill civilians accidently. This distinction is of cold comfort morally I think when the deaths of the civilians from the use of the artillery are completely predictable and foreseeable. If the goal is allowed to make the action moral in the case of the artillery barrage, I am uncertain why the same logic is not applicable in the case of Hiroshima.

  • Going to have to agree with Greg M. that the notion of “civilian” took a rather major beating in this situation– probably why the Gen. Conv. spent so much time hammering out who is a civie and who isn’t.

    Is someone standing by the soldier and reloading a valid target?
    Are you not allowed to fire at a foxhole that’s trying to gun you down, because you can see they’ve got a red cross worker trying to patch them up?
    Can you destroy a yard full of military ships under construction or repair?
    Can you bomb the not-formally-military staffed bomb factory?
    If it’s required for someone to be a formal military to be a military target, how do you deal with informal attacks? (getting a bit to close to modern issues, so I’ll stop there)

  • Well, despite the best efforts of bombing apologists, we’re left at the end of the day with the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated, not because of their military value (which was slight and certainly less than many other potential targets), not because the civilians there were a threat (regimes like Japan’s always threaten that their civilians will rise up against any invader… they don’t), but because our bombing policy was, as I stated before, identical to “Bomber” Harris’ vision of demoralizing CIVILIAN populations.

    Thus, all this talk of Hiroshima’s bombing being justified either because of its military use or the ridiculous notion that the little old ladies and kids were armed threats to our forces, is bunk.

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wiped out in order to terrorize the populace and thus break the will of the military to resist.

    That END was produced immediately by the MEANS of purposeful destruction of innocent lives, NOT as a by-product or collateral result of legitimate bombing. Why can’t folks here acknowledge simply what everyone, especially Truman, knew at the time– the bombings were done to terrify the Japs so completely at our ability to incinerate civilian centers that their military would capitulate?

  • I think the evidence supports Tom’s contention. And I think the application of Catholic teaching yields a rather clear cut answer. That said, his moral error notwithstanding, Truman is still a far mor sympathetic character than many of his self-righteous critics.

    A man might deliberately kill his comrade in arms if that comrade is dying and in agony. Such an act is murder and intrinsically evil. Yet, I would hardly make it my business to scold him. All sins are forgivable of course — but some certainly more than others. Truman’s act was not heroic; it was wrong; but it was certainly understandable and forgivable.

  • Tom, you’re entitled to your own view, but not your own facts, and what you’re claiming as “facts” are far from proven.

    Feel free to call me whatever you like– heaven knows I can’t stop you– but your OPINIONS of what was true are far from persuasive, and should not be stated as if they are objective reality.

    (On a side note, I’m so sick of being one of the folks who has to say “hold up a sec, we don’t actually KNOW X, or Y, and Z is totally wrong.” Even when I agree with a conclusion, or don’t disagree, it’s a bad idea to let incorrect claims stand.)

  • Foxfier:
    It is completely appropriate to bomb a bomb factory, even knowing that some civilians will likely be killed. That is because a bomb factory is a military target. An entire city is not.

  • Mike-
    Military bases are sometimes cities. (Zip code, hospital/power/stores/water, own police force, civilian families, schools, etc.)

    Military bases, since they are military bases, are military targets.

    Thus, it’s clear that entire cities CAN be a military target.

  • Fair enough I suppose, but are you seriously suggesting that H or N were military bases? If so, then no need for further discussion since we occupy different universes.

  • Mike-
    Not going to fight this, because– like I said way up above– I don’t think we have enough information to do a decent job of it.

    My rough limit is basic damage control on the BS I _know_ I’m going to have to deal with in the next five years, in the form of “X who is (or was) a Catholic said Y, so it must be true, defend it.” Generally in the middle of family reunions or parties with geek friends.

    If you can’t make your argument off of facts, why on earth are you trying to state it as fact? Just throw in an “I” here or there, maybe in conjunction with “think” or “reason” or “believe,” refer to sources for your claims and bada bing: no conflict.

    Shoot, you could even say “I don’t see how it could be justified to bomb an entire city, because cities are not military targets” and it’s no longer something I, or some poor idiot like me, will have to defend. It’s your educated belief from the facts as you know them and your understanding of Catholic teachings. (Anybody talking Catholic theology with a half-dozen highly intelligent folks who have little to no use for organized religion, let alone the Church, needs to have their head examined. No offense to the real Catholic apologists among us.)

  • Foxfier,

    It’s not exactly as if there is no considered stance on this issue by the overwhelmingly vast majority of bishops, theologians, popes, etc. over the past fifty years. The only people who pretend as though this is somehow a difficult question for the Church to address are a handful of American Catholics.

    It is much better to do as Donald does: reject the reasoning of the Church forthrightly. It is no good pretending as though there is an epistemic difficulty here where there is not one.

  • Yay, appeal to authority, and total missing of the point.

    Have fun, I’m out.

  • “reject the reasoning of the Church forthrightly.”

    Questioning is not rejection, especially in an area such as this where we are not dealing with revealed truth, but rather the application of hair splitting logic.

  • (Same way I duck out when folks start bringing out “but all these guys say that the death penalty isn’t needed anymore! So I win!”)

  • Mike.

    Check the anecdotal historical evidence of who were in occupancy in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the military operations and indusctrial complexes attached to those cities.

    One could arguably conclude they were military bases.

  • I’m out after this one as well.

    Don, I didn’t mean to be inflammatory. I take it that you do reject the distinction between foreeseable consequences and intended ends *in certain instances*; but perhaps you only question their analytic efficacy. Fair enough. I think your position commits you to consequentialism (or at least some kind of proportionalism, a la McBrien, et. al.), which I don’t think you want to be committed to, but that’s a different topic. It is an important conversation to have, though.

    Foxfier, I wasn’t so much “appealing to authority” as showing that what you take to be a difficult, perplexing, epistemically vague scenario appears only to be so for a subset of American Catholics and not for the universal Church as a whole. This is an empirical claim.

  • Don the Kiwi,
    Sorry about the oddly abbreviated post above. I am well aware that both H and N contained both military operations and industrial complexes attached to the war effort. Same for Chicago and Detroit. And targeting those operations and complexes would have been morally licit, even if done quite imperfectly. But that is not what happened, and the evidence is quite clear that Truman knew exactly what he was doing. As I said earlier, I don’t really blame him — even if I can safely conclude from my comfortable perch that he were morally wrong. But I refuse to reason backwards either. Just because I’m sympathetic, actually very sympathetic, to the consequences, does not mean that the means were morally acceptable. They weren’t. Pretty much all of us do bad things for good reasons, and that does not make us bad people — just sinners.

  • Fortunately we don’t have to speculate on why Truman chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whether it was because the cities were military targets.

    His own press release states that the Potsdam ultimatum was issued to Japan (calling for their unconditional surrender) “to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction.” NOT the Japanese military, NOT the Japanese industrial ability, but the Japanese people themselves.

    Besides, the US had already joined in the British practice of terror bombing by helping in the destruction of Dresden and by firebombing Tokyo, a practice which indiscriminately killed thousands of civilians.

    As Doolittle’s raid early in the war demonstrated, it was entirely possible to target industry and military targets without wiping out entire cities.

    We simply adopted the Brit practice of firebombing, and ultimtely, nuclear bombing, to demoralize the civilian populaces of our enemies, not to advance a military objective.

  • Actually Tom Truman referred to the “military base of Hiroshima” when he announced the Hiroshima bombing. You can say that was incorrect, but that is how Truman looked at it.

    The firebombing of the cities of Japan wasn’t undertaken for terror purposes, but because that was the only way to take out the Japanese industries that tended to be located within residential areas. Precision bombing of Japanese industries was attempted until around March of 45 and had proven completely ineffective.

  • The Doolittle raid was a propaganda operation in 42. 15 of the 16 B-25s were lost, along with 80 airmen. The damage to Japan was completely negligible. From a morale standpoint in the US it was a success. From a military standpoint it was a disaster.

    The technology of the day made precision bombing usually a wistful dream rather than a reality.

    “In practice, the Norden (bombsight) never managed to produce accuracies remotely like those of which it was theoretically capable. The Royal Air Force were the first to use the B-17 in combat, and reported extremely poor results, eventually converting their aircraft to other duties. USAAF anti-shipping operations in the Far East were likewise generally unsuccessful, and although there were numerous claims of sinkings, the only confirmed successful action was during the Battle of the Philippines when B-17s damaged two Japanese transports, the cruiser Naka, and the destroyer Murasame, and sank one minesweeper. However these successes were the exception to the rule; actions during the Battle of Coral Sea or Battle of Midway, for instance, were entirely unsuccessful. The USAAF eventually replaced all of their anti-shipping B-17s with other aircraft, and came to use the skip bombing technique in direct low-level attacks.

    In Europe the Norden likewise demonstrated a poor real-world accuracy. Bombing was computed by assessing the proportion of hits falling within 1,000 feet (300 m) and 2,000 feet (600 m) circles about an MPI (mean point of impact). To achieve a perfect strike, a bomber group would have to unload all its bombs within the 1,000 ft circle. By the spring of 1943 some impressive results were being recorded. Over Bremen-Vegesack on 19 March, for instance, the 303d Bombardment Group dropped 76 per cent of its load within the 1,000 ft ring. Under perfect conditions only 50 percent of American bombs fell within a quarter of a mile of the target, and American flyers estimated that as many as 90 percent of bombs could miss their targets.[5][6][7] Nevertheless, many veteran B-17 and B-24 bombardiers swore by the Norden.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norden_bombsight

  • There is an ongoing myth that the British were primarily interested in terror bombing for the heck of it since they could not bloody the Germans in any other way. This is the received wisdom after Vonnegut and Irving. But it makes very little sense for the British to lose all those highly trained men of the Bomber Command (55,000 killed) and spend all that money to build a large strategic force merely to terrorise the Germans. The bombers were the British contribution to the continental war, as they lacked the ability to insert their forces into the field in a decisive ways. A much fairer assessment is provided in this book .

  • Harry S Truman was a 33° Freemason, an enemy of the Catholic Faith, which may be why Nagasaki, the center of Japanese Catholicism, was targetted. (More Catholics were killed on August 9th, 1945 than in four centuries of brutal persecution.)

    General Tomoyuki Yamashita was executed for the atrocities committed in the Battle of Manila (the “one case [in which] the event took place on American soil” mentioned in the post), despite the fact that said atrocities were committed by troops who had disobeyed his order to withdraw from the city to avoid civilian casualties.

Illegal Immigration: A Winning Issue for Democrats?

Thursday, April 29, AD 2010

Some Democrats think that the Arizona law cracking down on illegal aliens will save them from electoral disaster in November.  They think this will rile up the Hispanics, and to fan the flames a few Democrats are making free with their favorite epithet against those who oppose them, Nazi.

I think that these Democrats are pursuing a losing hand on this issue.  Illegal immigration is extremely unpopular in this country and overheated epithets will simply further energize the conservative base.  More to the point, this election is going to be fought on the economy and government spending, and the Democrats are in dire shape on both those issues.  In regard to the immigration issue, I think there is evidence that some Democrats understand that rather than a gift this could be an electoral landmine.  This AP story here indicates that Obama concedes that Congress may not have the political appetite for immigration reform anytime soon, and notes the type of legislation that the Democrats propose eventually may ostensibly put enforcement before amnesty:  “An immigration proposal by three Democratic senators calls for more federal enforcement agents and other border security-tightening benchmarks before illegal immigrants could become legal U.S. residents, according to a draft of the legislation obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The bill is being developed by Reid of Nevada, Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.”

In an earlier post this week I quoted my favorite living historian Victor Davis Hanson on the issue of illegal immigration.  Here are his current thoughts on immigration as a political issue in the Fall:

A Losing Political Issue

The politics of illegal immigration are a losing proposition for liberals (one can see that in the resort to euphemism), even if they don’t quite see it that way. Here are ten considerations why.
Law?—What Law?

First, there is the simplicity of the argument. One either wishes or does not wish existing law to be enforced. If the answer is no, and citizens can pick and chose which laws they would like to obey, in theory why should we have to pay taxes or respect the speed limit? Note that liberal Democrats do not suggest that we overturn immigration law and de jure open the border — only that we continue to do that de facto. Confusion between legal and illegal immigration is essential for the open borders argument, since  a proper distinction between the two makes the present policy  indefensible—especially since it discriminates against those waiting in line to come to America legally (e.g., somehow our attention is turned to the illegal alien’s plight and not the burdensome paperwork and government obstacles that the dutiful legal immigrant must face).

Why Wave the Flag of the Country I Don’t Wish to Return To?

Second, often the protests against enforcement of immigration law are strangely couched within a general climate of anger at the U.S. government (and/or the American people) for some such illiberal transgression (review the placards, flags, etc. at May Day immigration rallies). Fairly or not, the anger at the U.S. and the nostalgia for Mexico distill into the absurd, something like either “I am furious at the country I insist on staying in, and fond of the country I most certainly do not wish to return to” or “I am angry at you so you better let angry me stay with you!” Such mixed messages confuse the electorate. As in the case with the Palestinians, there is an effort to graft a foreign policy issue (protecting an international border) onto domestic identity politics, to inject an inflammatory race/class element into the debate by creating oppressors, victims, and grievances along racial divides.

Big Brother Mexico?

Third, Mexico is no help. Now it weighs in with all sorts of moral censure for Arizonians — this from a corrupt government whose very policies are predicated on exporting a million indigenous people a year, while it seeks to lure wealthy “gringos” to invest in second-homes in Baja. The absence of millions from Oaxaca or Chiapas ensures billions in remittances, less expenditures for social services, and fewer dissident citizens. But the construct of Mexico as the concerned parent of its own lost children is by now so implausible that even its sympathizers do not take it seriously. Mexico has lost all credibility on these issues, expressing concern for its own citizens only when they seem to have crossed the border — and left Mexico.

It’s Not a Race Issue

Fourth, there really is a new popular groundswell to close the borders. Most against illegal immigration, especially in the case of minorities and Mexican-American citizens, keep rather mum about their feelings. But that silence should not be interpreted as antagonism to enforcing the law. Many minorities realize that the greatest hindrance to a natural rise in wages for entry level jobs has been the option for an employer to hire illegal aliens, who, at least in their 20s and 30s, will work harder for less pay with fewer complaints (when sick, or disabled, or elderly, the worker is directed by the employer to the social services agencies and replaced by someone younger as a new cycle of exploitation begins). In this context, the old race card is less effective. The general population is beginning to see not that Americans (of all races who oppose illegal immigration) are racist, but that the open borders movement has itself a racially chauvinistic theme to it, albeit articulated honestly only on university campuses and in Chicano-Latino departments, as a sort of “payback” for the Mexican War, where redress for “lost” land is finally to be had through demography.

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22 Responses to Illegal Immigration: A Winning Issue for Democrats?

  • I’m not aware of anyone who thinks this will erase the Republican advantage in November. But it’s a long-term blow to the GOP. When Tom Tancredo, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush are running from it, it’s safe to say that this isn’t a political winner.

    Gov. Brewer got a boost among whites which widens her lead against Goddard. But Goddard’s lead among Hispanics just jumped 26 points! Rarely in politics do you ever see such a big swing.

    Whites who are leaning Republican because of this issue can be swayed by other issues like abortion or the economy. The Hispanics who are abandoning the GOP because of this issue aren’t coming back. The GOP is losing a generation of Hispanics and Asians.

  • I don’t think that most Hispanics who are legally here restrainedradical are actually much fonder of illegal aliens being allowed to stay in the country than most other Americans. The Democrats will get majority of the Hispanic votes in the Fall, as they usually do outside of Florida with its Cuban-American population. But I predict a fall off from the percentage received by the Democrats in 2008. Hispanics are primarily economic voters like most other Americans, and a lousy economy is always going to be blamed on the party in power.

    As for Marco Rubio, a man who I expect will eventually be the GOP standard bearer for Presidency some day, here is his position on the Arizona law:

    “Our legal immigration system must continue to welcome those who seek to embrace America’s blessings and abide by the legal and orderly system that is in place. The American people have every right to expect the federal government to secure our borders and prevent illegal immigration. It has become all too easy for some in Washington to ignore the desperation and urgency of those like the citizens of Arizona who are disproportionately wrestling with this problem as well as the violence, drug trafficking and lawlessness that spills over from across the border.

    “States certainly have the right to enact policies to protect their citizens, but Arizona’s policy shows the difficulty and limitations of states trying to act piecemeal to solve what is a serious federal problem. From what I have read in news reports, I do have concerns about this legislation. While I don’t believe Arizona’s policy was based on anything other than trying to get a handle on our broken borders, I think aspects of the law, especially that dealing with ‘reasonable suspicion,’ are going to put our law enforcement officers in an incredibly difficult position. It could also unreasonably single out people who are here legally, including many American citizens. Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.

    “I hope Congress and the Obama Administration will use the Arizona legislation not as an excuse to try and jam through amnesty legislation, but to finally act on border states’ requests for help with security and fix the things about our immigration system that can be fixed right now – securing the border, reforming the visa and entry process, and cracking down on employers who exploit illegal immigrants.”

    http://www.marcorubio.com/marco-on-arizona-immigration-legislation/

    The Arizona law is not going to spur a movement to support amnesty, but rather the reverse.

  • I wonder how the average Arizona policeman feels about this new law- by that I mean he/she may be hung out to dry if what they consider to be ‘reasonable suspicion’ is put to countless legal challenges- I’m just trying to put myself in their shoes- and it could be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario where they will constantly be asking themselves- “am I racially profiling?” Police are no different from us in that they will have certain stereotypes and even inadvertant prejudices which could lead them into trouble in Federal Courts and so forth- is there something built into the law that would protect the police from lawsuits that will inevitably occur – except in egregious cases of obvious harrassment or abusive treatment?

  • Cops will feel cautious Tim as they do with any law until it has been through the court mill a few times. The first arrests under the law, assuming that enforcement will not be blocked, will probably be cases so obvious that the cops can’t ignore them. Of course a lot of this also depends upon their instructions from their superiors and the attitude of the local district attorney to enforcing the new law.

  • I don’t think that most Hispanics who are legally here restrainedradical are actually much fonder of illegal aliens being allowed to stay in the country than most other Americans.

    Simply not true. Goddard jumped 26 points against Brewer among Arizona’s registered Hispanic voters after this bill was signed. He’s still trailing but has a 46 point advantage among registered Hispanic voters. The Arizona Hispanic Republicans have come out against the law. Arizona had one of the most Republican Hispanic populations before the bill was signed. Overnight Arizona’s Hispanics became as Republican as California’s.

    If I had to guess, less than 20% of Hispanics here legally, are in favor of this law. Probably less than half that among 1st and 2nd generation legal immigrants. There’s an enormous racial divide on this issue.

  • The polls in Arizona are in conflict restrainedradical. Rasmussen is showing Brewer way up after signing the bill with an eight point advantage over Goddard.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections2/election_2010/election_2010_governor_elections/arizona/election_2010_arizona_governor

  • I would imagine that to the extent this has a long term political effect, it will probably be against the GOP. However, I doubt that (despite the tendency to assume that whatever occupies the news waves at a given moment is the pivotal event in some trend) there will actually be much movement one way or the other in the long term as a result of this particular dust-up.

    However, despite consistent Democratic hopes to the contrary, I can’t see that the Hispanic vote will ever become the uniform and overwhelming Democratic voting bloc that the Black vote has become. Despite the efforts of Latino activists, it’s not an absolutely defining label for most 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics, and many of us simply stop idenfiying as members of the group consistently after a couple generations anyway. The fact that in the coming decades majorities of the Southwestern states will be Hispanic in origin does not mean that they’ll all act like the self-identified Hispanic voters on polls now.

  • I don’t see the conflict Don. Brewer benefited from this but the bump came entirely from whites.

  • Rasmussen doesn’t break it down by ethnicity restrainedradical. The difference in the polls is that PPP shows Goddard plus three while Rasmussen shows Brewer plus eight.

  • I wonder how the average Arizona policeman feels about this new law

    Well, the Sheriff of Pima County had this to say:

    The state’s sweeping immigration law is a “national embarrassment” that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he’ll enforce only if he’s forced to.
    “This law is unwise. This law is stupid, and it’s racist,” Dupnik said Wednesday. “It’s a national embarrassment….”

    It’s probably safe to say he’s not a fan of the law.

  • Last year Dubnik wanted to ask school kids about whether they were in the country illegally. Goodness knows why he was willing to do that and finds this law “stupid and racist”.

    http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/138491

    Oh, I understand now. As Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Republican points out, Dubnik is a Democrat. I am shocked, shocked!

    http://hotairpundit.blogspot.com/2010/04/sheriff-joe-arpaio-responds-to-fellow.html

  • If Dubnik was willing to have teachers ask students to prove they are here legally, I don’t think you can explain his opposition to the current law just based on his being a Democrat. Maybe the fact that this law has to do with the police (and thus affects him personally while the education thing does not) has something to do with it?

  • Btw, if Joe Arpaio is any indication of how the Arizona law is going to be enforced, then I’d say the criticism is justified.

  • A man who was willing to have students turn informer on their parents could not possibly have an objection to this mild by comparison law except for partisan purposes.

  • I’ll take Joe Arpaio any day BA over a sheriff who apparently believes that his badge gives him a right not to enforce a law of his state.

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/crime/arpaio.asp

  • Don, the problem is that Arpaio isn’t enforcing the law either. By focusing on illegal immigration he has neglected traditional law enforcement, with the result that, to quote the East Valley Tribune, “[r]esponse times, arrest rates, investigations and other routine police work throughout Maricopa County have suffered.”

  • The East Valley Tribune ran the series in the summer of 2008 BA when Arpaio was running for his fifth term as sheriff. He won re-election 55-42. Apparently a majority of the voters in his county are satisfied with how he is doing his job.

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  • Personally I think Arizona’s new law is a great law. We all recognize that we need to allow a better path to citizenship, but since the state can’t grant the citizenship the only way we can protect ourselves is to enforce harsher penalties against all illegal immigrants. We can’t sort the good and the bad until the Federal government acts. Instead of protesting our actions people should be petitioning their congressmen to reform immigration laws. We just want to keep the criminals and drug dealers out of our state.

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  • Most people in America aren’t against immigration; they’re just against illegal immigration. For example, like most of our ancestors, my mother’s parents were immigrants. They came through Ellis Island and followed the various legal steps required in order to establish themselves as true citizens of this country. The immigrants crossing the Mexican border, however, have absolutely no interest in following these legal protocols. Once they cross the border, they change their names and/or purchase social security numbers in an effort to conceal their true identities from the law. It is not uncommon for an illegal immigrant to purchase not one, but two or more social security numbers, just in case one is flagged. I have witnessed this crime with my own eyes. (One day, a supposedly legal immigrant was asked to give their social security card to a receptionist for a job application and an interview. When the receptionist happened to ask to see the card a second time, the immigrant mistakenly handed over a different social security card with the same name on it, but with a completely different set of numbers…)

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against Hispanics. I have many Hispanic friends, but they either have green cards to work in the United States or have become legal citizens. They decided to follow the rule of law and work within the boundaries of our legal system. Unfortunately, many immigrants do not, and it is those particular individuals that we are most concerned about.

    Now it seems that those who sympathize with illegal immigrants wish to hijack the discussion of reform by attacking the law recently imposed by the State of Arizona through protests and boycotts; a state mind you, that has been besieged with crime, drugs and an ever-increasing population of illegal immigrants. Don’t allow them this option. Speak out and take action. This is your country… fight for it.

    In closing, I consider myself to be a bleeding-heart liberal: a Democrat. My ancestor, Roger Williams – the founder of Rhode Island and founder of the First Baptist Church in America, was one too; regarding the acceptance of different nationalities, cultures and religions as the vitality and lifeblood of any country. Nevertheless, I think that he would agree with me; that immigrants wishing to become legal citizens have not only the obligation, but the civil and legal responsibility to follow the rules of law established by any country in which they wish to become authentic citizens, just as our ancestors – both yours and mine – struggled so arduously and righteously to achieve.

Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

Tuesday, April 27, AD 2010

Immigration seems to be a hot topic these days at American Catholic.  The author who best represents my views is Victor Davis Hanson, one of my favorite living historians,  in his book Mexifornia:  A State of Becoming.  In that book Hanson turned his gaze to a subject he is personally familiar with: the transformation of his native California by massive illegal immigration from Mexico. Hanson is not anti-Mexican. He has several Mexican relatives, his daughters are dating Mexican-Americans and most of the people he grew up with are Mexican-American or Mexican. What Hanson is opposed to is our feckless non-policy on immigration which allows steady waves of illegals to flood our border states and does not give us time to allow us to assimilate the Mexican immigrants here. Hanson believes strongly that the vast majority of immigrants, given time and opportunity, will assimilate and become good citizens.   That is my view also.   However it is impossible for this to be accomplished unless we gain control of our southern border and curb most illegal immigration.   A good book on a major issue that both the Republican and Democrat parties have steadfastly ignored, until the passage of the Arizona law. 

 Mexifornia came out in 2003.  Hanson wrote an article in 2007 for City Journal reviewing what had happened in the intervening years, which may be read here.  I find his class analysis of the immigration question interesting:

Since Mexifornia appeared, the debate also no longer splits along liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, or even white/brown fault lines. Instead, class considerations more often divide Americans on the issue. The majority of middle-class and poor whites, Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics wish to close the borders. They see few advantages to cheap service labor, since they are not so likely to need it to mow their lawns, watch their kids, or clean their houses. Because the less well-off eat out less often, use hotels infrequently, and don’t periodically remodel their homes, the advantages to the economy of inexpensive, off-the-books illegal-alien labor again are not so apparent.

But the downside surely is apparent. Truck drivers, carpenters, janitors, and gardeners— unlike lawyers, doctors, actors, writers, and professors—correctly feel that their jobs are threatened, or at least their wages lowered, by cheaper rival workers from Oaxaca or Jalisco. And Americans who live in communities where thousands of illegal aliens have arrived en masse more likely lack the money to move when Spanish-speaking students flood the schools and gangs proliferate. Poorer Americans of all ethnic backgrounds take for granted that poverty provides no exemption from mastering English, so they wonder why the same is not true for incoming Mexican nationals. Less than a mile from my home is a former farmhouse whose new owner moved in several stationary Winnebagos, propane tanks, and outdoor cooking facilities—and apparently four or five entire families rent such facilities right outside his back door. Dozens live where a single family used to—a common sight in rural California that reifies illegal immigration in a way that books and essays do not.

The problem with all this is that our now-spurned laws were originally intended to ensure an (admittedly thin) veneer of civilization over innate chaos—roads full of drivers who have passed a minimum test to ensure that they are not a threat to others; single-family residence zoning to ensure that there are adequate sewer, garbage, and water services for all; periodic county inspections to ensure that untethered dogs are licensed and free of disease and that housing is wired and plumbed properly to prevent mayhem; and a consensus on school taxes to ensure that there are enough teachers and classrooms for such sudden spikes in student populations.

All these now-neglected or forgotten rules proved costly to the taxpayer. In my own experience, the slow progress made in rural California since the 1950s of my youth—in which the county inspected our farm’s rural dwellings, eliminated the once-ubiquitous rural outhouse, shut down substandard housing, and fined violators in hopes of providing a uniform humane standard of residence for all rural residents—has been abandoned in just a few years of laissez-faire policy toward illegal aliens. My own neighborhood is reverting to conditions common about 1950, but with the insult of far higher tax rates added to the injury of nonexistent enforcement of once-comprehensive statutes. The government’s attitude at all levels is to punish the dutiful citizen’s misdemeanors while ignoring the alien’s felony, on the logic that the former will at least comply while the latter either cannot or will not.

Fairness about who is allowed into the United States is another issue that reflects class divides—especially when almost 70 percent of all immigrants, legal and illegal, arrive from Mexico alone. Asians, for example, are puzzled as to why their relatives wait years for official approval to enter the United States, while Mexican nationals come across the border illegally, counting on serial amnesties to obtain citizenship.

These class divisions cut both ways, and they help explain the anomaly of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page mandarins echoing the arguments of the elite Chicano studies professors. Both tend to ridicule the far less affluent Minutemen and English-only activists, in part because they do not experience firsthand the problems associated with illegal immigration but instead find millions of aliens grist for their own contrasting agendas. Indeed, every time an alien crosses the border legally, fluent in English and with a high school diploma, the La Raza industry and the corporate farm or construction company alike most likely lose a constituent.

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38 Responses to Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

  • Perhaps some. My parents, whose parents came from Mexico, are native Californians. They have live in the same house for 50 years and added one room and remodeled the kitchen once during those years. My father was always a blue collar worker and my mother a stay-at-home mom. We were poor. They are not pleased by illegal immigration especially their perceived drain on Califoria’s resources by illegals.
    When I was in college, I had first hand experience with La Raza. Most were third generation Mexican Americans like myself. They were very well educated and living the life at an Ivy League school. They were also quite pro-illegal immigration, in favor of large govt. entitlements to illegal immigrants and against any restrictions on immigration.
    I think there is a real divide amongh Hispanics on illegal immigration that is in part influenced by socio-economic status. Don’t know about other groups.

  • One of my roommates in College was the son of Mexicans who initially came into the country illegally. He used to tell me that the biggest problem for upward mobility in his neighborhood were the new illegals who could be hired for a song by employers.

  • This wouldn’t be a problem except that liberal progressive Catholics have encouraged this situation. To them, it is against social justice NOT to welcome the illgeal alien, and many bishops and priests feel the same way. This kind of nonsense liberal thinking has to be purged. BTW, it’s the rich, well-off liberals like liberal Catholic Nancy Pelosi who encourage this sort of thing.

  • Donald- I believe the 800 lb. gorilla in this debate is “it’s the economy, stupid”, more so than “it’s the unsecured borders, stupid”. But it is a both/and deal to a large degree with these two major factors figuring strongly.

    I know Joe H. has agreed with me that NAFTA needs to be immediately rehauled- my own social doctrine-inspired view is that market theory cannot stand alone, there is a need for direction and intervention on the part of the political authorities to ensure the common good. The proof that NAFTA as currently configured is a bust, is found in the pudding of extreme circumstances of so many Mexicans leaving home to find opportunities as illegal entrants into the U.S. As it is said- the Mexican people have voted on NAFTA with their feet.

    This is my beef with the non-racist “conservatives” when discussion of the problem of illegal immigration comes up- they don’t or won’t acknowledge the huge role that economics has played- and the shared responsibility for this that both the Mexican and the American establishment powers has played in creating such terrible conditions of life for average folk south of the border for the most part. NAFTA was sold to the masses as the cure for illegal immigration pressures- facts on the ground suggest that the problems have grown exponentially since NAFTA.

    Now if we effectively seal the borders and do nothing about the economic relationship between us and Mexico, I would predict some dramatic upheaval to take place inside Mexico- violence, destabilization, perhaps revolution- these could be ultimately curative, but I would like to try to ease out of the crisis with substantial reforms along economic development lines as my first-stroke strategy- if there is a sense of hope that the Mexican-U.S. establishments are going to be working for real on a development model akin to post-war building up of physical infrastructure, ready access to affordable education- all the way through college levels, and family subsidies to make up the short-term difference between what the market supplies as wages, and what people actually require to keep their families intact and progressing by the generations- (I will provide some social doctrine backing for this bit in a later post devoted to freeing ourselves from ideologies part 2).

    In conclusion- we could devote several billion dollars to building up an air-tight, Israel-style wall and checkpoint system for border security- and then sit back and watch the Mexicans tear themselves up for awhile and maybe get sorted out in a way that meets the demands of the majority of families within- or we can be proactive now, admit that the economic relationship and trade agreement is flawed and failing- and re-visit all of it- inviting all the major interests- not just the largest corporate ones- to be part of a transparent process of negotiation- plenty of media openness to ensure the general public in all countries affected- of course Canada is to be included in all this as well- everyone who cares to know will know what is going on and could then take on more trust that the system will be looking out for the common good, and not just the interests of the few in the high-end financial sectors- recall that right after NAFTA passed a really huge bail-out took place to cover the losses of those high-ender speculators who first pumped NAFTA up into a bubble investment, and then begged for and got a massive public bail-out when the bubble predictably burst- sound familiar?

  • That is just economic nonsense. The thread of Mexican prosperity does not hang on an 8% excise on imports.

  • Tim:

    Please make your case: What exactly changed in the law as the result of NAFTA, and by what causative mechanism did these changes make the situation in Mexico worse?

    It seems to me that this connection is largely assumed in your previous post: Not to say that you aren’t correct, but only that the case isn’t made and, as the fellow who brought it up, you ought to make it.

  • To Art Deco- if NAFTA has such a small effect on things- why has everyone made such a big fuss about it- those who advocated it and pushed for it made all sorts of broad claims about how much improvement would come to all with the passage of this trade agreement. I’m not saying that Art Deco was making this claim- but I recall the debate prior to the passage of NAFTA, and I have stood in front of a U.S. Senator a couple of years ago and stated that NAFTA was a failure and needed to be re-negotiated and he unleashed a stream of the highest sounding praise for the NAFTA trade pact- giving it all manner of credit for being one of the greatest things out there- so I’m not sure what to believe when the establishment powers have always been making bold claims as to the power for good that NAFTA held out- and now I’m told by Art Deco that it is pretty insignificant- I know that the bail-out of investors after NAFTA was not insignificant- so I tend to believe that NAFTA has been a powerful shaper of economic conditions- but I’m open to further discussion on that- and even if NAFTA is more small potatoes than I imagined it to be- there is a corresponding relationship between the U.S. and Mexico on economic matters whereupon Mexican prosperity and solidity is important for our border security and for economic and moral considerations. Rich countries can never be smug or self-contented especially with a poor country camped out just outside the gate- think of Lazarus the begger and the rich man parable.

  • Hanson is probably right about the class divide on this issue among whites and blacks but he’s wrong in his belief that it applies also to Asians and Hispanics.

    The best way to determine an Asian or Hispanic’s stance on this issue is to ask whether he has friends and relatives in his native country. That’s a greater divide. It’s an empathy divide. It’s easier to be an America Firster if you aren’t supporting your mother back in Mexico.

    Fairness about who is allowed into the United States is another issue that reflects class divides—especially when almost 70 percent of all immigrants, legal and illegal, arrive from Mexico alone. Asians, for example, are puzzled as to why their relatives wait years for official approval to enter the United States, while Mexican nationals come across the border illegally, counting on serial amnesties to obtain citizenship.

    There’s no puzzle. Poor Asians come illegally. Wealthier Asians aren’t willing to wash dishes so they wait to come legally so they can work for Google or open a business. If you hand immigration policy over to any non-political subgroup of Asians, they’ll throw the doors open. Except maybe poor third and fourth generation Asians working in landscaping. All 3 of them.

  • if NAFTA has such a small effect on things- why has everyone made such a big fuss about it

    If Obama was born in the US, why has everyone made such a big fuss about it? The answer to both questions: Willful ignorance.

  • “A good book on a major issue that both the Republican and Democrat parties have steadfastly ignored, until the passage of the Arizona law.”

    I have to say after living through 2006 and especially 2007 the issue was not ignored I will tell you that

  • From Victor’s article

    ““Anti-immigrant” is also a lie peddled in service to open borders — a lie by virtue that it deliberately blends “immigrant” with “illegal immigrant” to suggest opposition to all legal immigration.”

    I think he undercuts his case complaing about the term anti Immigrant when he uses the term “open borders” which is a term that misused way too much

    Furhter some of the LEAFING VOICES in this debate and one we see on the TV and in fact at the National Review itself are very very anti legal immigration. That is in the mix too

  • Just curious: who at NR is anti-legal immigration?

  • I think that he is right that there is a class divide on support for more immigration — though I don’t think it’s primarily because of the more well-off having illegal immigrant gardeners and maids.

    It’s easier for those who have “made it” to say, “It’s a land of opportunity, we should let more people in like my ancestors were and give them the chance to make it to.” Those who are much less economically secure are more likely to see any influx of additional labor simply as competition — and people who will make the neighborhood seem messier and more chaotic.

  • “Just curious: who at NR is anti-legal immigration?”

    Mark Krikorian is the mnain immigration guy over at the Corner. He belongs and has worked for various John Tanton groups that are all related and basically want to halt legal immigration to a trickle

    For them illegal aliens are a sad issue.

  • Just curious: who at NR is anti-legal immigration?

    Mark Krikorian wrote a book called The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal. Does that count?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru has also argued that problems associated with illegal immigration also apply to legal immigration.

  • Tim,

    It’s hard for me to see how NAFTA is the primary villain in this (or to be honest, even much of a peripheral villain) given that it wasn’t even passed until 1994. At least from a Southern California perspective, there was already a massive illegal immigration from Mexico problem in the 80s and early 90s, before NAFTA was even passed. Nor was Mexico previously in good shape which NAFTA somehow destroyed — it’s been gradually improving over the years, but the main problem is that has been economically far behind the US for 150 years or more.

    NAFTA repealed US tariffs which previously applied to about 50% of Mexican exports to the US and Mexican tariffs which previously applied to about 30% of US exports to Mexico. It also made cross-border investment and business ownership easier. (Which is why, for instance, my current employer is in the midst of closing factories in central Texas and opening factories in Juarez.)

    As for why it’s been so controversial… Honestly, I don’t know, other than that it’s a convenient peg on which to hang one’s opinions about free trade and Mexico, whether one is for or against.

  • “I have to say after living through 2006 and especially 2007 the issue was not ignored I will tell you that”

    Ingnored jh in actually attempting to do something effective about the problem. I think one aspect of the hullabaloo that has arisen in regard to the Arizona law is the fear on one side, and the hope on the other, that this law might prove effective in combating illegal immigration. Attempts to block it in court will of course be fierce, and may be successful, but if it is ever allowed to be implemented, and if it does prove effective, watch it being replicated in quite a few states.

  • Krikorian also borders on being an anti-Catholic bigot:

    http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MWIzNDcwY2RlMzcyNzA4YWQ1ODVmMzgwYjY2NWJhMjU=

    Whenever someone starts a sentence with “Unlike this guy, I am not a Catholic-basher” after having quoted said “guy” in suppport of his premise, odds are that he is, indeed, a “Catholic basher”.

  • I think one aspect of the hullabaloo that has arisen in regard to the Arizona law is the fear on one side, and the hope on the other, that this law might prove effective in combating illegal immigration.

    That, or we’re just escalating from sticking our metaphorical finger in the hole in the dike to shoving our head in.

  • NAFTA phased out a lot of the ag restrictions. Mexico was flooded with US corn, and Mexico’s farmers couldn’t compete. A lot of the recent illegal immigrants are former corn farmers.

    http://migration.ucdavis.edu/mn/more.php?id=2025_0_2_0

  • Donald I think the proposals given in 2006 and 2007 in fact were a good way of doing something about it.

    However it appears various factions in this debate on the left and right will not move a inch. In fact they raise holy heck if anyone shows moving a inch.

    Doing something about it is the need to address all the issues here. THe problem is just focusing on Enforcement or just focusing on citizenship and a pathway to it causes problems.

    We have millions of children of illegal aliens that are American citizens right now. What happens to them when all these mass deportations occur? Someone has to take care of them. Does the fact that their parents live in the shawdows in fact causing major future problems for us. I suspect it is. Do they fit in the ewquation anywhere? Or are they acceptable collateral damage that perhaps will come back to haunt us big time in the future

    Now that does not give every illegal with a child a free pass. Under proposals those same folks would have to meet certain requirements to stay and no doubt many would mmet the mark. But at least it will make the afteraffects less severe on the whole.

  • It looks like in regards to agriculture, trade in both directions has more than tripled since 1993, and the US has maintained a $1B trade surplus throughout:

    a brief PDF with government data on the topic

    Primary increases in US agricultural exports to Mexico have been in commodities which the US produces very efficiently in very high volumes: beef and corn.

    The big increases in Mexican exports to the US have been products which can’t be grown in the US or have different growing seasons farther south: coffee, cocoa, fresh vegetable, fresh fruit.

  • There is of course a huge divide between how Mexico wants America to treat its immigrants and how they treat their own:

    http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=14632

  • But Phillip that’s different! (Unless you are talking to Central Americans of course.)

    http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/05/01/20080501mexico-immig0501-ON.html

  • There is of course a huge divide between how Mexico wants America to treat its immigrants and how they treat their own

    I’m not sure we should be using Mexico as a guide for how our laws should be.

  • Tim:

    No argument that the better off Mexico is internally, the better for everyone.

    Perhaps NAFTA is the disaster you may think it is, perhaps not, perhaps it is indifferent. Without accurate information, changes or overhauls could make things unintentionally worse. Of course, accurate info on just about anything of that nature (legislative/governmental impacts on economics) is hard to come by.

  • Not a guide. Just perspective. I suspect immigrants (illegal or otherwise) to this country will find Arizona’s recent law enlightened compared to most other countries laws on immigration.

  • I read an interesting book a couple of years ago- Global Class War by Jeff Faux- it really tore into the backstory of NAFTA and the bailout that followed- anyone here read the same? I would like to think that Catholic commerce networks could be established to develop fair trade avenues for producers and consumers- I’ve had Catholic Relief Service reps out to my classes to present on their Fair Trade programs and promotions- I like the notion of Catholics linking up across borders and being conscious of the morality bound up in our economic relationships between those who are doing ok and those not. This way we don’t have to rely on big Gov or big corporate interests all the time.

  • That is true. I think Benedict XVI says very much the same thing in Caritas in Veritate.

  • We have immingration laws and regardless of where the illegal entry person is from, they need to be enforced. Many current citizens are children of past immingrants from many different countries who came here became citizens and followed the law and many still do. They assimilated into US society and norms while still holding their cultural backgorund which has made the country great. To see the group of protesters and many illegals and their approach to demonizing the USA is sickening. The refrain from politicians who support these illegals and who are only looking for a vote is also sickening as if they are above the law for strictly a political means. To allow an amnesty is wrong as it would only cause another problem in the future if all illegals are allowed now. They should have to register and be sent back to their homeland and even if it takes ten years for legal entry so be it. Enployers and all others who harbour or utilize illegals for any purpose should face a mandatory very high fine. The people in Arizona were forced to act as our government has not due to politics. If the IRS has records of illegals here or SSN or any shelter with employers of any kind , they should be giving the information to Imingration officials and these persons also face a very steep finanical fine til the lure of employment here and the fact enforcement will be swift and sure would do more than building fences or barriers. If they then still try to enter illegaly , they will be denied legal entry in the future for any reason. They now know they once they get in , if they lay low and keep a quiet profile, they will be able to stay, as laws are being enforced.

  • “Both tend to ridicule the far less affluent Minutemen and English-only activists, in part because they do not experience firsthand the problems associated with illegal immigration but instead find millions of aliens grist for their own contrasting agendas.”

    And that’s why both will be ignored and ultimately rendered irrelevant.

  • This is my beef with the non-racist “conservatives” when discussion of the problem of illegal immigration comes up- they don’t or won’t acknowledge the huge role that economics has played- and the shared responsibility for this that both the Mexican and the American establishment powers has played in creating such terrible conditions of life for average folk south of the border for the most part. NAFTA was sold to the masses as the cure for illegal immigration pressures- facts on the ground suggest that the problems have grown exponentially since NAFTA.

    The liberalization of trade induces small improvements in aggregate welfare and appears to have positive effects on economic dynamism as well. The benefits are general but not necessarily equal between the parties. There may be effects on income distribution within particular parties that are disagreeable and of course there are transition costs. IIRC, Mancur Olson floated a thesis many years ago that there are benefits not captured in econometric models and which might derive from the disruption of domestic cartels. I am not sure if anyone else developmed or tested that idea.

    The NAFTA treaty concerns the regime governing cross-border merchandise trade. There is a section which concerns the regulation of financial services. Mexico did experience a currency crisis some months after the NAFTA treaty was ratified. I suppose it could be Jeff Faux’ thesis that the liberalization in cross-border branch banking somehow exacerbated the currency crisis. I couldn’t tell you as I have not read the book. (I do not think that is the usual diagnosis in cases of financial crisis). It seems to me if you are concerned about the effect of hot money you could address that separately from the question of how to govern trade in merchandise or non-factor services.

    Latin America has some signature problems (dysfunctional labor markets and wretchedly skewed income distribution among them). However, Latin American countries are not, when measured on a global scale, peculiarly impoverished; they are about average, and more affluent than they were a generation ago. I do not know why you should regard it as anomalous that Mexico has not had an experience of economic development like that of South Korea – five decades of smokin’ economic growth which largely erases the difference in standards of living between the country in question and Switzerland. There are only about a half-dozen non-European countries who have managed that since the War.

  • The sales pitches of politicians often turn out to be…imprecise. You expected something else?

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Why the Fiscal Lunacy?

Monday, April 19, AD 2010

One of my favorite living historians is Victor Davis Hanson.  I have read every book he has written and most of his articles.  Trained as a classicist and historian of antiquity, he has written on a broad range of topics, from the hoplites of ancient Greece, ancient Greek agriculture, a searching examination of the Peloponnesian War, the farming crisis of the 80’s, the history of warfare and culture, the teaching of the classics and the debacle of our non-policy on immigration, and I have been astonished at how skillfully this man writes and with what intelligence, and very dry humor, he cuts to the essence of whatever subject he addresses.  He moonlights as a pundit on current events and in that capacity I have found a recent column of his intriguing on the question of just why the Obama administration is hellbent on compiling such huge annual deficits.  Here is a portion of the column:

We are going to pile up another $3 trillion in national debt in just the first two years of the Obama administration. If the annual deficit should sink below $1.5 trillion, it will be called fiscal sobriety.

Why, when we owe $12 trillion, would the Obama administration set out budgets that will ensure our collective debt climbs to $20 trillion? Why are we borrowing more money, when Medicare, Social Security, the Postal Service, Amtrak, etc. are all insolvent as it is?

What is the logic behind something so clearly unhinged?

I present seven alternative reasons — some overlapping — why the present government is hell-bent on doubling the national debt in eight years. Either one, or all, or some, or none, of the below explain Obama’s peculiar frenzied spending.

1) Absolutely moral and necessary?

The country is in need of massive more entitlements for our destitute and near to poor. Government is not big, but indeed too small to meet its moral obligations. Deficits are merely record-keeping. Throwing trillions into the economy will also help us all recover, by getting us moving again and inflating the currency. And we can pay the interest easily over the next 50 years. Just think another World War II era — all the time.

So big spending and borrowing are genuine efforts of true believers to make us safe, secure, and happy.

2) “Gorge the beast”

The spending per se is not so important, as the idea of deficits in general will ensure higher taxes. Nationalized health care, cap and trade, new initiatives in education, more stimulus — all that and more is less important than the fact that huge defects will require huge new taxes, primarily from the upper-classes. I see no reason why the total bite from state income, federal income, payroll, and health care taxes cannot soon in theory climb to 70% of some incomes (e.g., 10% state, 15.3% FICA, 40% federal, 3-5% health care). In other words, “redistributive change” is the primary goal. This aim is premised on the notion that income is a construct, if not unfairly calibrated, then at least capriciously determined — requiring the more intelligent in the technocracy to even out things and ensure an equality of result. After all, why should the leisured hedge-funder make all that more after taxes than the more noble waitress?

So big spending and borrowing mean big deficits, and that means taxing the greedy and giving their ill-gotten gains to the needy.

3) Big Brother?

Or does rampant borrowing for government spending reflect our despair over the inability of millions to know what is best for themselves? For democracy to work, all of us must fully participate. But because of endemic racism, sexism, class bias, and historical prejudices, millions of Americans do not have access to adequate education and enlightenment. Therefore, a particular technocratic class, with requisite skill and singular humanity, has taken it upon themselves to ensure everyone gets a fair shake — if only government at last has the adequate resources to fix things. If it proves problematic for one to register and vote, then there will be a program to make 100% participation possible. If some of us are too heavy and too chair-bound, we can be taught what and how to eat. If some of us do not study, we can adjust academic standards accordingly. In one does something unwise, like buying a plasma TV rather than a catastrophic health care plan, then we still can ensure he is covered. In other words, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-moral guardian class requires resources to finish the promise of participatory America. After all, why would we allow the concrete contractor to “keep” 70% of his income only to blow it on worthless things like jet skis or a Hummer in his garage or a fountain in his yard — when a far wiser, more ethical someone like Van Jones could far more logically put that now wasted capital to use for the betterment of the far more needy?

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11 Responses to Why the Fiscal Lunacy?

  • The rationale for the “stimulus” is rooted in Keynesian economics. The problem with this one as opposed to previous ones is rather than using the stimulus to kick start a stalled economy, combined with Obama’s other policies such as Gov’t takeover of major parts of the economy such as Fannie & Freddie, AIG, GM etc, health care reform, Cap & Trade etc. together they are going to have the opposite effect. The Federal Gov’t now owns 80% of the mortgages in the US. So it is a double whammy. There is, and will be will be no “recovery”.

    The current “recovery” is a dead cat bounce. Bernanke and Geithner’s pronouncements that the “recession” is over is the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace for our time” speech right before Germany invaded Poland. We are in the eye of a hurricane right now and the second half is going to be worse than the first because the Fed is out of bullets. The next shoe will be the collapse of the dollar (brought about on purpose) and the introduction of a regional (Amero) or international currency (SDR’s). Anything denominated in dollars will be bought out out for pennies on the dollar.

    Obama is just a tool of the gang that surrounds him to tank the economy on purpose to bring about the NWO. Obama isn’t smart enough to think this stuff up on his own, but then the same could be said for Bush who lost it with me after telling America to “go shopping” after 9-11. In reality, this has all slowly been taking place since the end of WW 1. We’re just lucky enough to be there for the climax.

  • Given that 53 cents of every dollar of income taxes goes to support current and past military misadventures, I think that VDH needs to reexamine the real cause of America’s fiscal insolvency.

    It’s also worth pointing out that Obama, whatever else he is doing, is set to lower the deficit from Bush’s time in office.

  • “It’s also worth pointing out that Obama, whatever else he is doing, is set to lower the deficit from Bush’s time in office.”

    ?!

  • Given that 53 cents of every dollar of income taxes goes to support current and past military misadventures

    Why not go one better and use Maryland sales tax revenue as your denominator?

    I was not aware that any portion of my New York State income tax payments were devoted to ‘past and present military adventures’. (Though I rather do like the idea of Gov. Patterson calling out the National Guard to arrest the state legislature and stuff them in the Albany County Jail, now that you mention it).

    About 5% of Gross Domestic Product is devoted to military expenditure. (A decade ago, the proportion was about 3.5%). Prior to the recent federal spending binge, about 14% of all public expenditure was devoted to the military. If you wish to apportion debt service costs among other other sorts of expenditure, perhaps 16% of public expenditure was so devoted. That would be, ahem, the sum of costs for maintaining the military, not the costs attributable to ‘past and present military adventures’. (Unless it be your contention that military expenditure itself is illegitimate).

  • We must live in the United States of Topsy Turvy Land. The projected deficit for 2010 (Obama’s second year in office) which was three times as large as Bush’s last deficit *may* turn out to be only 2.5 times as Bush’s last deficit and somehow we’re to consider Obama to have fixed Bush’s mismanagement? Nevermind that Obama’s own budget initiatives project ever increasing deficits YoY.

  • So wj’s citation was an assertion made by the Obama administration that still leaves the deficit higher than it was when Bush was in office.

    Next time you might want to read the sources before linking to them.

  • As I understand it, Obama inherited the 1.3 trillion dollar deficit from the Bush administration, and so it is misleading to attribute the ballooning deficit to his policies alone, which is all I intended to say. If you look at the CBO forecast (and I acknowledge that many deny the accuracy of the CBO), Obama’s budget *will* lower deficit’s longterm. Of course, I am not a supporter of Obama, and it is not terribly important to me whether is is moderately more or less fiscally insane than Bush; but it is fair to point out that the current deficit problem is not *entirely* due to his own recklessness.

    Art Deco: what about this analysis is wrong: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=18659

  • That figure includes the Pentagon budget request of $717 billion, plus an estimated $200 billion in supplemental funding (called “overseas contingency funding” in euphemistic White House-speak), to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some $40 billion or more in “black box” intelligence agency funding, $94 billion in non-DOD military spending (that would include stuff like military activies funded through NASA, military spending by the State Department, etc., miilitary-related activities within the Dept. of Homeland Security, etc.), $123 billion in veterans benefits and health care spending, and $400 billion in interest on debt raised to pay for prior wars and the standing military during peacetime (whatever that is!).

    What is wrong is that this fellow pads the payroll in various ways by adding the budgets of the intelligence services, the space program, veterans hospitals, and the federal police; and pads it further by attributing the entire charge for service on the federal debt to military expenditure, as if there were no domestic expenditure whatsoever. He then further manipulates his figures by expressing these charges as a ratio of federal income tax revenue, even though north of 40% of public expenditure is by state and local governments and most federal expenditure is financed out of Social Security taxes and bond sales. But you knew that.

  • Thank you gentlemen. This thread, thus far, is a classic example of what robust combox debate should be!

  • One thing I like very much about VDH is that he is not only a professor, but a farmer. He and his brother run a California raisin farm that has been in the family for 4 generations. So his great store of academic learning is balanced by the fact that he is familiar with the ordinary, down-to-earth concerns of farming folk.

    The difference between military spending and spending on social programs is that I see defense spending as a legitimate function of the federal government. Obamacare is another matter entirely. I certainly think provision should be made for those unable to obtain healthcare for themselves. I don’t believe the federal government should be in the business of providing it for all of us, whether we want it or not.